BEEF industry research is honing in on the idea of producers supplying the local chemist alongside the butcher, with significant investment underway into 'upcycling' traditionally low-value parts of a carcase.
Paving the way is advancements in automation and objective measurement (OM) of carcases, that not only reduces costs in the processing plant but allows for coproducts to be derived with a far greater level of consistency.
From high-grade collagen for nutraceuticals and offal for thyroid capsules to bone broth and tallow, there are some large research and development projects underway, Meat & Livestock Australia's science and innovation group leader Michael Lee reported at his organisation's annual Updates webinar program.
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"There is a huge global demand for wellness and beauty products and inside the hide and sheep skin is some amazing protein peptides that our industry can derive collagen from," he said.
"This is exciting because not only is it about creating a new opportunity completely outside the leather industry, it is a market avenue that makes use of tick-affected hides and face pieces as well."
Work was also underway around animal offal and organs as an ingredient in human thyroid gland treatment. MLA had partnered with companies making liver and thyroid capsules targeting the United States market, Mr Lee said.
"MLA has a number of projects underway looking at supply chains that go beyond butchers and supermarket meat cabinets," he said.
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"Now we have products we can more predictably derive, we can look at how we get into markets like nutraceuticals - and then how we reward the producer for providing these products."
OM and automation is facilitating that.
The industry was no on the cusp of having a number of camera-based grading system devices commericalised and that was combining with strong interest from brand owners for using data on lean meat yield and eating quality, and animal health, to underpin production decisions.
And the first fully automated DEXA (Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) driven robotic cutting system - worldwide - was performing two scribing cuts in beef operations now.
The next phase would be eight-cut pathways, Mr Lee reported.
It is estimated that with its accurate subsurface sensing and repeatable cutting, the benefits in beef boning automation will exceed $20 a head.
OM and automation equals lean manufacturing principles, Mr Lee said.
Not only does that open the doors for upcycling but there are emerging credentials the market is desiring where OM technology can unlock value beyond eating quality and lean meat yield, such as animal health and sustainability, he said.
Live animal OM
Before the processing plant, objective measurement technologies are also progressing.
Internet of Things sensors are making their way on-farm, smart tags are tracking animals and some agtech is even looking at the heartbeat of animals.
Farms are using sensors to measure water levels and usage, satellite data is measuring soil biomass and drones are mustering livestock.
In feedlots, research is looking at how to best control feeding levels and there are some promising results from a small portable handheld microwave device that measures fat depth in live animals that could have applications pre-slaughter to improve market compliance, Mr Lee said.
"Like any tech solution, we have to ensure we're not being seduced by toys - that investments are solving a real problem," he said.
"What you do with the data is just as important as whether the tech works.
"But this type of traceability could lead to whole-of-life welfare tracking one day."
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The story Cattle producers supply chemists alongside butchers first appeared on Farm Online.