THE perspective of youth, and the benefit of remarkable inside access, is shining an interesting light on how Australian beef will fare in the face of supercharged Brazilian production.
Australia’s sophistication and co-ordination in producer representation, data analysis and technology will be its point of difference, says 24-year-old beef marketing and production executive Kirsty McCormack.
As the South American beef giant which boasts a cattle herd more than eight times the size of ours carves out efficiency and quality gains, how likely it is to displace our beef in global markets has been a key cause of consternation among industry leaders and analysts.
Ms McCormack, who works with Queensland family-owned Signature Beef, has just wrapped up her year as the beef industry’s Rising Champion, which gave her a rare on-the-ground look at the Brazilian beef supply chain.
She said the power Australia had in co-ordinating and representing beef producers was underrated and underappreciated.
“Often we talk about the ability of Brazil to outcompete us in the marketplace but our industry structure is our advantage,” she said.
“Brazil have the cattle and they are starting to produce better quality beef. They are still developing land and systems to increase productivity.
“But they do not have what we do in terms of industry knowledge, representation and technology to be able to deliver their beef to the world.
“Our traceability, biosecurity and certified guarantee, that comes with every piece of Australian beef, is unquestionable.
“We should strive to improve these things to secure our place in the global beef market.”
Rising Champions sponsor McDonalds paved the way for Ms McCormack to visit Brazilian beef operations last month and gain incredible insights.
She said sustainability dominated conversations.
“In Brazil, sustainability really brings into focus the Amazon and the issue of deforestation,” she said.
“Banks, processors, retailers and wholesalers are utilising satellite technology to monitor deforestation, creating a virtual blacklist of farmers who are clearing any land at all.
“In each biome, there is a legal amount of land that is able to be deforested but the pressure from non-government organisations to have zero deforestation has created a situation where many producers have been cut off from major supply chains.”
It was making a huge difference to the producer’s ability to utilise their land, Ms McCormack said.
“This is where the importance of peak industry bodies has become so clear to me,” she said.
“There is no producer representative body that sits on the Brazilian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef or acts on behalf of producers to influence government.
“The ability to have a united voice, representative of realistic producer needs, and to be active in conversations with the supply chain is crucial in what makes the Australian beef industry successful.”
Once a producer was blacklisted, there was no pathway forward. They were blocked from accessing financial institutions and it effectively meant they had nothing to lose from clearing more land, which was counterproductive to sustainability goals.
An informal market whereby abattoirs not part of the Roundtable agreements were able to source cheaper beef had developed, Ms McCormack said.
It was impossible to get solid data on just how much meat was going into this “cheaper” market, she said.
“Brazil does not have quantifiable data on their herd size, let alone producers,” she said.
“When I showed them MLA (Meat and Livestock Australia) data on things like how much Australia exports to each market, they were blown away.”
On farm, progressive producers were now starting to look at genetics and kilograms produced per hectare and Ms McCormack believes as greater efficiencies come, so too will Brazil’s capacity as a beef exporter.
Currently 80pc of Brazilian production is sold domestically.
However, Brazil will be a complimentary supplier to Australia, not a competitor taking us head on, Ms McCormack believes.
“In 20 years time, I see Australia having the ability for each farmer to target a very distinct market and supply a unique brand,” she said.
“Brazil will be pumping out consistent, commercial cattle.
“Their focus will be on volume, ours will be on supplying higher value markets.”
The Rising Champions is an initiative of Cattle Council of Australia and NAB Agribusiness, designed to support the development of young beef leaders.