Sun-drenched, grass-fed cattle raised right, and audited by experts, will always attract a premium when presented to the right bidder. So why should those producers worry if the European Union slams its door in our face?
In fact it has been some years since a reasonable premium was paid for EU certified weaners from the North Coast but those in support say when times are right the extra paperwork pays off with a premium price $70 to $80 a head higher than those without the certification.
John Smith, Woodenbong, uses his dairy background to grow some of the finest Santa/Hereford cross cattle on the coast and, like other producers from the Upper Tooloom, has cultivated a premium local market for first cross heifers. For these producers Europe matters less and if the restrictions became too cumbersome there could be every chance they will let certification slide.
“EU hasn’t meant a premium for us,” Mr Smith said. "But it has come at a cost – ear tags at $4, for instance, and with cows after seven years they’re all lost. There’s always an extra cost. Meanwhile we’re getting a premium price, regardless.”
Ron Dean, Clifton Pines, Mallanganee, says he will comply with any changes to his favourite market and will continue to manage two separate herds of Simmental and Hereford to produce first cross weaners for EU grass-fed finishers.
“Yes it’s worth doing,” he says. “Usually the highest bidder is EU certified. And it’s not much trouble. I’ve got a closed herd so I don’t buy-in females and under the market regulations were allowed to bring in bulls.”
Mr Dean said he would be willing to comply with tighter restrictions including longer withholding periods.
Complying with EU certification is no big deal, says registered producer Adam Chapman, Fine Flower near Grafton. There is no cost and while paying the compliance officer is the same as with any other certified scheme, about $500, he only comes around every few years.
“The last time we actually got a real premium for our EU cattle was about eight years ago but it was worth it at the time, bringing in an extra $80 a head,” he said.
Greg Upton, Walcha, buys certified weaners at the autumn Euro sale in Casino and finishes them on grass, with many ending up at Teys, Beenleigh. He said any restriction into Europe would have to flow through to producers and could translate into store weaners falling $70 and “maybe go cheaper.”
“Everybody will get a kick in the tail,” he said.
“This is absolutely our highest priced market,” he said pointing out EU certified grid prices at 575c/kg carcass weight competed with feedlot prices. “And we need it to be a premium as we carry the cost of obeying its rules – like no growth hormones and the increased cost associated with that. The processing sector has also had to comply. It’s had to change its system.”
Mr Upton said any loss of certified producers would only make the task of finding certified agistment during drought all the harder. As it was, the job of finding an EU paddock was proving tricky.
The grazier said the recent inbalance of trade was “grossly unfair” with the US and China and now Europe “taking advantage of free trade”.
Mr Upton said these market signals were confusing when apparently people want more sun-drenched, grass fed product and yet the deal to let the US supply Europe will inevitably result in more feed-lot finished, corn-fed beef going to the highest-paying consumer.