JUST 25 cattle producers in Victoria and NSW now have the highest level of certification for grassfed beef supply.
While more than 300 producers were believed to been signed up at its peak, the industry-driven Pasturefed Cattle Assurance Scheme (PCAS) certification numbers have fallen dramatically.
The plummeting numbers are put down to two factors – the establishment and momentum being seen in company-specific third-party audited grassfed programs, and the $700-$900 annual audit fee involved in being PCAS accredited.
PCAS program chairman and Cattle Council of Australia director Marc Greening said PCAS had essentially done its job of creating a way of assuring the quality and integrity of grassfed beef.
“PCAS has been, remains and always will set the standard for accreditation in grassfed beef production,” Mr Greening said.
“It has been the platform for processors to establish their brands, and the program has been of great benefit to the industry.
“Processors have been able to leverage off what PCAS started, but PCAS remains the gold standard of accreditation.”
Mr Greening told Beef Central the $700-$900 audit fee under the PCAS program was a “significant turn-off to joining” when producers could sign up to processor-specific programs and have audits conducted at the processor’s cost.
“PCAS has done its job and it won’t disappear,” he said.
“It’s achieved its goal, which was to take grassfed beef to premium markets.”
One of those company programs that built on the work down initially by PCAS is the Grasslands brand developed by Teys Australia. Its company-specific accreditation kicked off in June last year (click here to view earlier Beef Central story).
Teys was the first processor to adopt PCAS five years ago, and was one of the major users of the system which was launched by the Cattle Council of Australia in 2013.
But in April last year, it announced its own certification program. There are now almost 2000 producers that have the Grasslands accreditation according to Teys Group executive director of livestock Geoff Teys.
The cattle are being processed for the program at company plants stretching from Biloela and Lakes Creek in Central Queensland, to Beenleigh near Brisbane, Wagga in southern NSW and Naracoorte in South Australia.
Under the Grasslands program, producers sign up and complete the audit process, with 20 percent of all participating farms audited each year. It means every farm is audited at least once every five years.
Mr Teys described the uptake of Grasslands accreditation as “huge.”
“It is what the market is looking for – ethically-grown grassfed beef, both for primal cuts and for grinding meat,” Mr Teys said.
“We have picked up a lot of smaller producers who were growing grassfed beef, but were reluctant to wear the audit fees (for PCAS).”
The Grasslands brand is not only supplying high value export markets like those in the United States, but also Woolworths stores domestically, with the Grasslands brand appearing on store shelves.
The widening of the original grid to a broader carcase weight range of 200-360kg had also encouraged more producers to sign on to the company-run accreditation program.
And Mr Teys said despite the large number of sign-ups under its grassfed program, the company was still short of supply.
“We can’t get enough of the certified grassfed beef – we could handle more as the market is still growing,” he said.
Great Southern program reaches 4000 head per week
JBS Australia’s Great Southern program pre-dated PCAS, and now has 2500 producers signed up for supply.
JBS Southern farm assurance and supply chain manager Mark Inglis said the company was currently killing about 4000 cattle a week supplied by producers certified under the Great Southern program, at average kill weights of 300-320kg. Processing takes place at company plants at Brooklyn (Vic), JBS Scone (NSW) and JBS Longford (Tas). The throughput makes Great Southern arguably the world’s largest independently audited grassfed program.
Mr Inglis said the Great Southern program differed from PCAS in that it was a quality assurance system, which dealt with more than just what the cattle were fed.
“Great Southern is an on-farm quality assurance program for a whole range of attributes, from occupational health and safety to animal welfare, as well as the assurance for grass fed,” Mr Inglis said.
“It was built off the requirements for what the US Department of Agriculture wanted (in order to underpin US requirements about raising claims), and we built the program around what our customers wanted.”
JBS pays for the third-party audit, but Mr Inglis said this was not the biggest incentive for producers to join the program.
“Great Southern celebrates and rewards the producer and the producers have ownership of the brand,” he said. “There is a producer committee for Great Southern and they get to have input into the brand and the program’s development.”
Big premiums available
Both JBS and Teys pasturefed programs offer substantial premiums over mainstream yearling grassfed cattle.
This week’s Teys grid shows Grasslands-eligible cattle, MSA boning groups 1-4 at 545c/kg – 25c/kg above standard MSA yearling, with MSA boning groups 5-8 15c/kg better-off.
About 85pc of Teys Grasslands cattle processed in the company’s southern (NSW and SA) plants make MSA boning groups 1-4, while about 40pc of Queensland-processed cattle make that grade.
Editor’s note: We struggled to get a representative figure for Great Southern program cattle price premiums from JBS yesterday, due to the Victorian public holiday. We’ve since been advised that the Great Southern premium over the past 12 months has averaged 47c/kg carcase weight, benchmarked against NLRS OTH rates for 0-4 tooth grass steer, non-MSA. Mid-year, the premiums go well above that, Beef Central was told.