Rewards of up to $34 a head are awaiting northern beef producers who gain the full benefit of the Meat Standards Australia (MSA) system, according to the findings of four years of research.
In fact, two MLA-funded producer demonstration sites (PDS) in Queensland found adopting strategies to improve MSA compliance can increase bottom line profits by up to two per cent.
Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF Qld) senior beef extension officers, Alan Laing and Felicity Hamlyn-Hill, who supported the producer groups, said it was the result of higher weight-for-age steers and heifers.
“By focusing on genetic selection for growth, fat and marbling and adopting best practice management and animal nutrition strategies, producers were able to turn-off heavier cattle earlier and meet MSA specifications,” they explained.
Between 2008 and 2012, the PDS set up on ‘Lisgar station’ in the Burdekin and ‘Trafalgar station’ near Charters Towers, evaluated the benefits of adopting MSA grading, improving compliance and reducing ungraded MSA percentages.
Critical MSA compliance factors of breed, age, use of hormone growth promotants (HGPs), temperament, handling and mustering were assessed against MSA grades achieved through export meat processor, JBS Australia at Townsville.
The PDS showed genetic selection within breeds for early growth and supplementary feeding could allow producers to turnoff 300–340kg carcase animals a whole year earlier as two-and-a-half year olds and hit MSA premium boning groups.
DAFF Qld Economist Timothy Moravek, who crunched the numbers for the PDS, said in the short term, options to boost compliance could include removal of HGPs, using molasses to finish steers if this was economical and minimising time cattle spent in yards pre-slaughter.
In the longer term, MSA compliance could be improved by early feeding of molasses supplements, selection pressure for a range of desirable carcase and growth traits and reducing age of turnoff – with an associated reduction in ossification and dentition.
The processor perspective JBS Australia Livestock Manager Brett Campbell welcomed greater uptake of MSA, but added this required producer education and support through analysing carcase feedback and premium prices.
“In boning groups 1–9 there are often premiums of 5¢/kg to 25¢/kg, but the bulk of MSA cattle going through in Townsville are not hitting those specifications,” he said.
“With efforts in genetics, growth and nutrition to reduce turn-off age, I think local producers can work towards increasing grading percentages in those higher paying groups if grazing conditions and cattle are suitable.”
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