Agri boss sees future in livestock

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

One of Australia's most innovative agribusiness leaders has urged the industry in WA to shift its focus from grain to animal protein before it is too late to capitalise on the opportunities in China.

Milne AgriGroup managing director Graham Laitt warned that WA was unlikely to gain much from rising global food demand under its traditional production models.

Mr Laitt said massive changes in markets - chiefly urbanisation and wealth creation in China - required massive change in WA's production models.

"The greatest opportunity is in animal protein and this is comparatively underdeveloped in WA," he said.

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Mr Laitt said developing countries in eastern Europe, the Ukraine and South America were likely to meet a big portion of the increase in demand for grain in the next few decades.

He said there were limits to how much grain WA could produce and that over time the State's share of the global grain trade was likely to diminish.

"I'm optimistic about future for agribusiness in WA but I do think we need to refocus attention on animal protein rather than grain," Mr Laitt told a Committee for Economic Development of Australia conference in Perth yesterday.

"We need to breed our way out of problems. We have to breed the scale and number of animals that will give us competitive advantage in these markets and we have to do it soon because this opportunity is not here for much longer. China will find other sources of meat."

Milne AgriGroup is a major producer of feed for livestock as well as operating Plantagenet Pork, Liveringa Beef and Mt Barker Free Range Chicken.

The company has also developed a way to use the straw left over from grain harvest in feed production and sees huge potential for WA in global research on using straw in biofuel production.

"When farmers harvest a field of wheat the energy removed in the grain is about the same as what is left behind in straw," Mr Laitt said.

"Cracking the method of turning that biomass into valuable products is receiving massive amounts of money."

Beef exports to China have exploded in the past year. Meat and Livestock Australia figures show that over the past 12 months beef exports to China topped 82,000 tonnes - more than double exported in the previous 12 years combined.

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