Can Australia’s feedlots compete?

Can Australia’s feedlots compete?


Opinion
Lotfeeding has been excellent for producing better quality beef, but can Australia continue to compete given low feed conversion rates and high cost of production.

Lotfeeding has been excellent for producing better quality beef, but can Australia continue to compete given low feed conversion rates and high cost of production.

Aa

Lotfeeding has been excellent for producing better quality beef, but can Australia continue to compete given low feed conversion rates and high cost of production?

Aa

It is invariably said that most of a beast’s breeding goes down its neck. A tour of a feedlot, beginning at the inception pens, confirms the saying. “Genetics” improves with the days on feed. 

Good nutrition is essential in producing good meat. However, Australia is heavily handicapped in the world’s food production race.

Ours is, in general, a tired, burnt out, continent with soil poisoned by our eucalyptus trees.

Our city-centric governments have allowed developers to cover some of our most productive land with concrete.

Australia reached a record number of sheep and cattle in 1977 and these numbers have been going down ever since, while our human population explodes.

Post weaning “backgrounding” on grass, with its precarious margins, is currently not a profitable venture for most.

Governments long ago removed the superphosphate bounty, stopped building dams for irrigation and, in NSW, recently removed the important drought freight subsidies.

Instead they subsidise foreign-owned, inefficient windfarms. Regulatory control of the spread of weeds and kangaroos has disappeared with the birth of Local Land Services. 

These factors all effect productivity, and ultimately, meat quality.

I followed Rockhampton’s Beef 2003 show steers through the chiller. Only two per cent would have reached the lowest US Department of Agriculture grade – the nutrition necessary just wasn’t there.

The Sydney Royal Show school steers were only marginally better, with minimal marbling.

Australian lotfeeding was begun at “Oakleigh”, Canowindra, in 1963 by Dick Stone.

Dugal Cameron and Robin Hart began in South East Queensland in the same year - three giants in the drive for excellence. South east Queensland became the main feedlot area with its access to grain, northern cattle numbers and a drier climate.

High rainfall and feedlots don’t mix. The US had swung into lotfeeding in the 1950s, following Roosevelt’s introduction of subsidies on corn and wheat production.

Low rainfall, artesian irrigated areas in Texas, Colorado and Nebraska became the main centres, with five million cattle on feedlots within 150 kilometres of the Amarillo Abattoir in 1983.

Soon, most US table beef was feedlot finished. We were much slower. By 1983 we only had 100,000 on feed.

Now we have up to 40 per cent of our seven to eight million annual kill feedlot finished. However, most feedlots have been losing big money – $60 to $110 per head. This is not sustainable.

The $31 million loss for the past half year by the Australian Agricultural Company, (maybe the biggest cattle operation in the world) should have people thinking.

- John Carter

Aa

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