IT'S been a big decade for beef, with record prices, more marketing options, improved technology and the increased awareness of food provenance and quality, and the Angus breed has been at the forefront of many of those developments.
RECORDS TUMBLE FOR STUDS AND SALEYARDS
The past 10 years has seen highs and lows for the industry, but overall it's been a good decade for markets, with stud, store and prime sales achieving records, and Angus leading the way.
At the start of the 2010s Angus weaners were making 170 to 190 cents a kilogram, having cracked the 200c/kg mark for cattle going direct to processors years before.
At its peak in 2017, the weaner market was rewarding producers with prices above 450c/kg at many sales throughout NSW and Victoria.
At the same time, in early 2017, pregnancy-tested-in-calf females hit all-time highs through the yards, reaching a high of $3650 a head at Boyanup, Western Australia, and cows and calves sold for a record high of $4100 at the Monterey Ladies Day Sale in Western Australia.
While the market dropped as the drought continued, it rose to highs of 330c/kg to 360c/kg in southern weaner sales this year, and prices for store cattle continued to lift in mid-January thanks to widespread rain.
The strong prices in saleyards have correlated with stud sales, with many of the country's Angus studs achieving record prices and averages in recent years.
Bathurst NSW's Millah Murrah Angus stud has led the seedstock success, holding both bull and female records for Australia, with Millah Murrah Kingdom K35 making $150,000 and 21-month-old PTIC Millah Murrah Prue M4 commanding an incredible $190,000.
Those prices have been matched in the United States, with leading stud Schaff Angus Valley, based in North Dakota, selling 12-month-old bull SAV America 8018 for $US1.5 million, or approximately $2.1 million in Australian dollars.
That result followed the 2018 record-setting sale which reached a high of $US800,000 for SAV Elation 7899, and the 2017 sale, when SAV President 6847, sire of SAV America 8018, sold for $US750,000.
The amount of DNA testing has accelerated dramatically over the past couple of years, with Angus breeders collectively investing approximately $2 million on this technology in the past 12 months.
This is expected to increase even further into the future.
While prices have dropped back due to widespread drought, there's still strong demand for Angus cattle, and that'll only increase as seasons improve, according to livestock agent Ben Redfern, Ray White Emms Mooney, Molong, NSW.
"Angus is still a world leader in marketing, and the market isn't slowing down, while ever the feedlots are buying black cattle, especially with their branded programs, as well as demand worldwide," Mr Redfern said.
"That demand was evident down at the southern calf sales, then we had weaner heifers making over 400c/kg at Carcoar (NSW)."
Mr Redfern expects many people to turn to the Angus breed as restocking begins when the drought subsides.
"Everyone's preference is to buy Angus but I don't think there'll be enough black cattle to go around."
IMPROVING ANGUS GENETIC SELECTION WITH SIRE PROJECT
One of the most important long-term projects in the breed, the Angus Sire Benchmarking Program, began 10 years ago with the first cohort of 35 bulls.
The program has ongoing benefits for stud and commercial breeders, with the goals to generate progeny test data on bulls to improve Angus Breedplan and create a comprehensive reference population of animals which could be heavily recorded for traits, particularly those that are hard to measure.
More than 10,000 ASBP progeny have been produced representing 353 sires over the decade.
Among the hard-to-measure traits being studied are abattoir carcase data including MSA (Meat Standards Australia) grade, heifer fertility on a natural joining, retail beef yield information, net feed intake in steers, days to calving for heifers, laboratory measured intramuscular fat and immune competence.
Angus Australia strategic projects manager Christian Duff said the program, supported by Meat and Livestock Australia, CSIRO and the University of New England, would allow producers to make more accurate breeding decisions, resulting in genetic gain for the breed.
GENOTYPE RECORDING FOR IMPROVED BREEDPLAN ACCURACY
As technology and data collection has improved, Angus breeders have embraced genomic testing, with approximately 90,000 animals now having genomic information analysed within the Angus Breedplan.
Using DNA testing as part of the calculation of estimated breeding values (EBVs) has improved the reliability of EBVs, making genetic selection easier and more accurate.
The Angus breed has lead the industry with investment in genomic testing, with multiple products being introduced over the past few years allowing both stud and commercial producers to increased genetic gain.
Among the products available were Zoetis HD 50K (introduced in 2010) and Zoetis i50K (2015), which were replaced with HD50K for Angus in 2018.
HD50K for Angus assesses the genetic makeup of black Angus cattle to obtain a genetic profile, with the information used to predict an animal's genetic merit.
The product allows breeders to make more informed selection decisions by increasing the accuracy of EBVs, particularly with younger animals and for traits that are typically hard to measure.
Joining HD50K was Angus HeiferSELECT, which has helped inform the selection of Angus replacement females who have been sired by registered Angus bulls.
Launched in late 2017, HeiferSELECT is used in commercial operations to provide genetic predictions, including an overall ranking for breeding value, along with predictions for eight individual traits - calving ease direct, 200-day growth, milk, mature cow weight, carcase weight, eye muscle area, rib fat and intramuscular fat.
Angus Australia chief executive Peter Parnell said more than 90,000 Angus animals had been DNA tested with the resulting data being incorporated into the Trans-Tasman Angus Cattle Evaluation (TACE), contributing to the accuracy of EBVs.
"The amount of DNA testing has accelerated dramatically over the past couple of years, with Angus breeders collectively investing approximately $2 million on this technology in the past 12 months," he said.
"This is expected to increase even further into the future."
Angus Australia is working closely with research partners, particularly CSIRO, the University of New England, and the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit (AGBU) to develop new genomics based EBVs.
Research EBVs for immune competence, and new cow performance traits (body condition and height) and coat type have been released over the past 12 months.
"This will be expanded to incorporate additional traits over the next couple of years, for example, female longevity and new structural traits," Mr Parnell said.
"In addition, developments are under way to provide further options for commercial breeders to utilise DNA testing to assist in the selection of replacement heifers and marketing of steers.
"While it is early days in terms of measuring the impact on genetic progress, evidence already exists to indicate that genomics testing is starting to have an impact in breeding decisions.
"Over the past 10 years there has been a steady acceleration of the measured genetic trend in the Australian Angus population in important economic traits such as growth, intramuscular fat and calving ease, and resultant profitability indexes."
BRANDING FOR A BETTER BEEF STORY
Telling the story behind beef has become a necessity in some markets, and the Angus breed has done that by supporting beef brands through its brand verification system.
At the start of the decade this was handled by Certified Australian Angus Beef, which had its own very successful brand both here and overseas, and was integrated into Angus Australia's commercial supply chain program in 2018.
"The success of CAAB, both on the domestic and export market, demonstrated that consumers were willing to pay a premium for well described high quality beef produced under tight specifications to maintain quality and consistency," Angus Australia CEO Peter Parnell said.
Ten years ago CAAB had just launched its partnership with McDonald's restaurants, and in the years since, the Angus name has become synonymous with quality and consistency, enjoying success through the McDonald's deal, at the same time as commanding top position on fine dining menus.
"Branded beef has been a highly successful strategy for processors, exporters and beef marketers to differentiate their product, and in particular to highlight the attributes valued by consumers, such as quality, consistency, tenderness and marbling," Mr Parnell said.
"Several high profile Angus brands are now verified directly by Angus Australia as the sole independent body representing Angus producers. Through participation at major international food shows to support these brands, Angus Australia has had strong feedback that independent third-party brand verification is highly valued in the export market," he said.