All red meat industry participants can add value through ICMJ

By Hugh Dawson, 20/07/2023

Hugh Dawson asks a question the ICMJ Rockhampton event earlier this year.

MY predisposition is to jump at anything that sounds like an opportunity, but when I first heard of ‘meat judging’ I had to stop and think…

Like most producers, my experience was isolated to production systems and my knowledge of the post-farm-gate supply chain was sufficiently limited to this point.

I’ve been fortunate to have participated in a range of industry conferences and workshops, but the Intercollegiate Meat Judging Association and its annual conference and competition offers the most comprehensive insight into the meat industry supply chain from on-farm conception to the point of sale and consumption.

Competing in this conference last year completely changed my perspective of the industry and made me question the potential value producers might be forfeiting along the supply chain.

I returned to ICMJ this year as a co-coach of the Marcus Oldham College team and visited abattoirs as part of our training. From as young as I can remember, I’ve listened to livestock producers talk about getting animals ‘fat’ for sale, but I couldn’t help but feel for the lamb producer as we watched thick layers of external fat being separated from primals from a platform above the boning room.

I thought of conversations where farmers would remark despondently about being discounted for ‘yield’ despite their stock being sent to market in ‘top condition’, and I recalled empathising with them, though I didn’t fully understand what they were talking about at the time.

Marcus Oldham College team members Angus Crossing and Pip Ireson watch George Abourizk from the Australian Butcher Team value add a beef rump with MOC’s Jane McGuire at the 2023 ICMJ conference.

Now as a final-year agribusiness student, I looked at the external fat being sorted into trim containers and could only see ‘kg/haDM’ that could have been utilised by another beast to grow muscle, ultimately to achieve a higher price per kg/yield. This made me question how well-aligned the producer’s notion of ‘top condition’ is to the animal needed by processors to meet quality expectations of consumers, who (as was mentioned several times in this year’s ICMJ conference) are the people who deliver every dollar back to our supply chain.

In the scheme of things, I am only starting out in my career in the red meat industry, so I could be a little off the mark. But while the average age of a farmer remains above 65 and there is a gaping hole in the age demographic of people looking to enter agriculture; our next crop of industry participants could be going in blind to livestock production without first-hand exposure to the complete supply chain, to the economic detriment of our meat and livestock industry.

So from starting as an outside sceptic, I now hold the belief ICMJ should be a prerequisite for everyone in our supply chain — if only possible — from farmer to end consumer.

You won’t walk away with all the answers and the challenges we face as a sector are addressed in full transparency. Yet ICMJ is a genuinely progressive and engaging program, actively empowering future industry leaders by facilitating countless opportunities for delegates to learn, network and grow.

I have no doubt it will be ICMJ alumni who are responsible  — as they are currently — for sustained growth in agricultural prosperity long into the future of meat production in Australia.

Edward Cox leads a session with the Marcus Oldham College team showing appreciation for their sponsors at the recent ICMJ competition.


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  1. Michael Vail, 10/08/2023

    Excellent points, Hugh !!

    One may learn a lot on a killing-room-floor, and the closer one gets to the final customer, that knowledge grows arguably exponentially …

    What does ‘finish’ or ‘finished’ really mean?

    When the beast is ready to go, sell and regret (maybe), but sell … they’re all looking quite similar with their coats off, but where’s that optimum at the margin, for this season, in that location?

    Seasons, expectations, and pasture availability guide the ‘marketing-hand’ behind the farm-gate …

    Good luck on your journey, Hugh!

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