THE president of Australia’s peak lot feeding body says a growing demand for regular supply and corporatisation of the grainfed sector is behind the record-breaking numbers of cattle on feed in the past year.
Numbers released earlier this week show the first quarter of 2022 was no different to the past year, with numbers on feed and capacity reaching record levels. (Click here for Beef Central’s earlier story on March quarter results).
Barb Madden from the Australian Lot Feeders’ Association last week spoke to Kerry Lonergan on Beef Central’s Weekly Grill podcast about several challenges facing the industry – including inflation, animal activists and sustainability.
Ms Madden, who is also from the Smithfield Cattle Company, said the cattle industry was increasingly relying on grainfed animals.
“We’re a professional sector, we’re here to produce high quality, consistent beef and that’s what processors are looking for. They want product, to specification, on time,” she said.
“We’re corporatised to a point where we understand our numbers and know exactly what we need to do to create high quality beef every day. This why the feedlot industry is here to stay because people want high-quality nutritious beef right around the world.”
Ms Madden said with growing demand for beef, a division of specialisations was the right way to go.
“We have the rangelands guys, who are good at growing pastures, managing breeding and growing out,” she said.
“Then you have feedlots who are good at finishing in a shorter amount of time and processors who fundamentally turn an animal into 100 products going to 100 different countries. So each section across the supply chain is sophisticated and feedlots are a part of that now.”
Inflation pressures remain an issue
While the industry has increased its scale over the past two years, it is still facing plenty of challenges, especially inflation. Feedgrain, cattle and fuel are all as expensive as they every have been and they are key inputs for the industry.
“These global impacts are all coming together at one point in time which are causing these concerns for feedlots,” Ms Madden said.
“But this is what lot feeders do every day, we manage logistics of commodities and cattle coming and going and we’ve had some significant weather events in Queensland and New South Wales. I’m confident lot feeders will come through this and it will very memorable time.”
Industry needs to engage with consumers
Another memorable time for the industry was 2019, when the industry was target of a series of animal activist invasions – including a prominent one at the Lemontree Feedlot in Southern Qld.
Ms Madden said consistent pressure from animal activists had been for the industry since the live export ban in 2011.
“That was one of the turning points where one day there was a thriving industry and the next day it was closed,” she said.
“ALFA has always been proactive about animal welfare and environmental sustainability and that is evident through our National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme, which was one of the first quality assurance programs in Australia and that’s been in place for 28 years.
“But I think that live export ban showed how consumer sentiment and government can quickly shutdown your business.”
Ms Madden said ALFA had set up a committee to increase the number of industry tours to help educate people outside the industry.
“It’s not only about curious consumers, but also about young people and giving them an opportunity to come on site and gain a real understanding of what we do,” she said.
“I’ve actually been working with our local school to bring the students and their teachers on site. Because it is also important to show our teachers, who are teaching our children, understand what we do and why we do it.
“There are many ways to go about this and we have created a website (www.grainfedbeef.com.au) to teach people more about our industry.”