Steaks are high on the future of beef in Western Australia
BeefLinks, an R&D collaboration between UWA, Meat & Livestock Australia and donor MLA, has over the past four years focused a tight lens on upstate beef production – an industry challenged by the vastness of land that separates its 4000 plots of land . – In addition to livestock trade.
The Western Australian herd roams to every corner of the state, ranging from extensive grazing stations in the far north to lush pastures in the far south and south-west. Many of its agricultural areas are devoid of population bases and the central beef research centers enjoyed by East Coast producers have not been achieved here.
In 2019, BeefLinks set out to change that, by bringing the industry together in time to address the challenges it faces, including climate change and the urgent need to diversify the market.
picture: Professor Phil Vercoe.
Project leader Professor Phil Vercoe, an expert in animal science at the University of Western Australia’s School of Agriculture and Environment and associate director of the University of Western Australia’s Institute of Agriculture, said the time was right for an initiative like BeefLinks.
“It came at a time when the focus was on the top half of Australia being a food bowl, and there was an awareness within the WA beef industry that there needed to be a greater focus to grow further, relying solely on live export,” Professor Vercoe said. “It won’t be enough.”
“At the same time, mining companies in the north were lowering the water table to get to the iron ore, so they were pumping groundwater through pivots and wanted to grow livestock fodder under those pivots.
“This is a huge change in the system; It changes the dynamics of pastures and so it becomes really important to know what to plant, how to manage it and how to incorporate these changes into the system. This is where you really need sound industry knowledge and research, but Western Australia has not had a critical mass of research support in the north for some time.
Professor Vercoe and a small team from the University of Western Australia brought together key industry stakeholders, including MLAs, mining companies and producers, in a series of workshops to get a sense of what the industry roadmap should look like.
“We started listing those high-level areas where there were gaps in our understanding of the system — and there were a lot of gaps at that point,” he said. “For the industry to become more sophisticated in terms of capturing greater value across the supply chain, it was necessary to better understand the system and all its moving parts down the supply chain.”
Professor Vercoe said there was also a growing awareness among producers about the potential impacts of climate change and the need to be more resilient in their operations.
Once established, BeefLinks quickly grew to include a range of research projects covering all aspects of the industry’s supply chain, including:
- Practices to improve the transition of animals from pastoral areas to background systems.
- Track animal movements and diet to improve grazing management practices that increase productivity and carbon in the landscape.
- Proof-of-principle trials of virtual fencing technology.
- Analysis of the nutritional value and methane reduction potential of pasture plants in Western Australia.
Underlying all of this was a comprehensive social and economic research project that produced an economic framework to improve decision-making among producers.
picture: Dr. Fiona Dempster.
Lead researcher Dr Fiona Dempster said the project included extensive discussions and interviews with producers.
“It was about getting to the core of what drives decision-making, especially when considering the adoption of new practices and new markets,” she said.
“Producers don’t make their decisions in a vacuum, they don’t just look at things like productivity or science. They weigh all the elements. It’s a big picture. Animal welfare is always vital to them.
With one year to go in its current form, BeefLinks has yet to tally the definitive difference it has made to the state’s beef industry (the MLA forecast it will generate $72 million in net benefits), but Professor Vercoe said it had already achieved something invaluable: Collaborative sense of possibility.
“There is an atmosphere,” he said. “The industry recognizes BeefLinks and our genuine interest in supporting them. There is a lot of momentum and trust that has been built that simply must continue.
“Even modest changes and improvements across the supply chain can create millions of dollars in additional value, but that will only happen through collaboration, trust and knowledge sharing.”
(tags for translation) Links Beef