DETAILED carcase feedback delivered in a way that allows a producer to make management changes and investments with confidence will be the future of the beef industry.
So says fifth generation South Australian breeder, fattener and trader Mark Higgins and the processor he supplies, Teys Australia Naracoorte, agrees.
Mr Higgins believes a collaborative approach where high quality information flows back to the farmgate, coupled with a balanced payment system which reflects the true value of an animal, will facilitate the most efficient and profitable beef supply chain.
Throw in a forward-thinking approach to constantly being at the forefront of research and development, on both the processor and producer’s part, and it’s a total recipe for success.
With his wife Lynette Higgins and son Philip, Mr Higgins runs Burnt Oak at Mosquito Hill in the Mount Jagged region south of Adelaide.
It’s 380 hectares of undulating coastal country in the South Mount Lofty Ranges with brown clay loam soils, all improved to phalaris, ryegrass, cocks foot, fescus and subterranean clovers.
The Higgins have a herd of 250 mainly Angus breeders - numbers are down slightly due to dry conditions since April - which are joined to Simmental/Angus bulls.
Cattle are turned off at 18 to 22 months, 500 to 600 kilograms liveweight.
Burnt Oak cattle which target Meat Standards Australia grading and Teys’ pasturefed program Grasslands are achieving a 95-plus percentage compliance.
That means consistent premiums of 30 to 40 cents a kilogram or up to 10pc above market rates.
“We’ve always marketed direct to the processor,” Mr Higgins said.
“Firstly, it suits my psyche. I studied engineering at university so I work well with data.”
The key way he has used feedback is in the area of minimum fat requirements.
It’s why the Higgins use Simmental, a European breed known for fat coverage and softness.
“Many of the top growth sires fail on fat. If your steers don’t meet the fat fat requirements for higher priced markets, the price you are paid drops dramatically,” Mr Higgins explained.
For that reason, the Higgins have meticulously sought out genetics, mostly Australian but also some United States bulls, that tick the fat box, along with growth and ease of calving.
User friendly payment system
The second reason the Higgins work with Teys is the grid system, which they describe as ‘user friendly’.
“If an animal fails in one aspect, it doesn’t tumble to the bottom, there are other categories of pricing along the way,” Mr Higgins said.
“Effectively, that is a built-in buffer. It makes it worth it to invest in all those inputs - genetics, pasture improvement.
“You’re not betting a year’s worth of hard work producing cattle on a ‘what if’.
“Combine that with the ability to get a clear signal of what the market wants, what constitutes that premium animal that Teys is looking for, and it’s a very realistic way for the supply chain to operate.
“We are dedicated grassfed producers, so there is variation in what we produce. We’re not operating in a sanitised world. This recognises not all animals will hit the sweet spot but it makes it still profitable to send a full load.”
Mr Higgins is optimistic that feedback is only going to improve.
“Teys recently ran a survey asking what additional feedback we’d like and we said animal health status,” he said.
“A processor dresses down the animal and examines all the parts so they are in a prime position to give a snapshot of health status on an individual basis.
“If we can determine where the issues are, and what the benefits are of addressing them on farm, we can make adjustments that provide a better outcome for both us and the processor.”
Teys’ manager of industry and corporate affairs John Langbridge said animal health feedback was on the way, with data collection points already installed in plants.
“We will determine where certain diseases and parasites restrict the ability of the animal to gain weight, which amounts to poor conversion of feed from a farmer’s perspective,” he said.
“We are doing the initial work on trying to put a value on what those restrictions cost the farmer.”
Investing in delivering meaningful data to the producer was about security of supply but it was also the only way both processing businesses and farm businesses were going to remain viable, he said.
“This is an export-exposed industry,” he said.
“Brazil can now access every market we can, except the US and South Korea, and their livestock costs are half what ours are and their labour costs are a third.
“That means from farmgate to plate, our system has to be as efficient as possible to remain globally competitive.
“We need more of the better animals and the farmer needs to maximise return per hectare.
“At the end of the day, we are all in this together.”
Mr Langbridge said 90pc of Teys’ stock now came from regular suppliers and building long-term relationships, with both farmers and customers, was the priority.
He believes demand for high quality beef is exceptionally strong and only likely to get stronger.
“That means we can never produce enough to flood the high quality market,” he said.