JUST fractions of a point separated the top placegetters within JBS Australia’s Great Southern beef and lamb program supplier of the year awards announced in Melbourne on Friday night.
In a strong reflection of how the program’s suppliers are responding to price signals and comprehensive performance feedback, there was little to separate the elite performers at the upper end, with results often being decided on outcomes from just one single consignment delivered over the yearly cycle.
Overall beef division winner for 2018 was Jock Richmond and family, Rosegrange Pastoral Co based at Little River, near Geelong. His prize was a trip for two to the United States, including visits to JBS North American processing operations and Great Southern brand customers (see Mr Richmond’s comments below).
The lamb supplier of the year (see story tomorrow) received a trip for two to Japan,
Points for the awards, presented at a glittering supplier dinner held at Melbourne’s Crown Casino on Friday night, were based on a number of critieria including program loyalty, optimum load number across the year, overall numbers consigned, and plant/MSA compliance rates.
Better performed Great Southern beef suppliers produced company spec plus MSA compliance rates well above 90 percent across the past year, results showed. Within that, many produced MSA compliance rates very close to 100pc, making it difficult to separate the winners.
Just 0.3pc separated the first two placegetters in the beef supplier award.
Among all cattle processed for JBS Australia’s Great Southern program through its Brooklyn, Longford and Scone plants over the past 12 months, the collective average MSA index score of the group rated them in the top ten percent of all cattle presented for MSA grading in Australia – some 3.4 million head.
Within that, Great Southern cattle meeting company and MSA specs for the Pinnacle program rated in the top 5pc of all grain and grassfed cattle graded under MSA across Australia; and the ‘super-premium’ Little Joe program (marbling score 4 and higher) cattle sat within the top 1pc of all MSA cattle graded.
That’s an extraordinary feat for slaughter cattle that have never received one ounce of grain in their lives, either as paddock supplement or feedlot ration.
JBS Southern’s Mark Inglis said seven or eight years ago when the Great Southern program was getting started, results showed a compliance rate of just 66pc against the combination of both company specs and MSA criteria on cattle.
“In 2017, that figure was 88pc, and you can clearly see that gradual, consistent improvement in performance and consistency over the course of the past seven years,” he said.
Provision of comprehensive feedback, and producers responding to price premiums and performance signals through producer education and support was the reason for the dramatic improvement. Nutrition and genetics were the big drivers.
“In the absence of HGP and bos Indicus in the Great Southern program, the MSA influences we are left with are weight-for-age (average oss score is 130-140) , and average carcase weight around 300kg,” Mr Inglis said.
The other MSA attribute the program had to ‘play with’ in terms of eating quality performance was marbling.
As an indicator of just what is possible under well managed supply programs, Mr Inglis has kept a recent producer feedback sheet on his wall ‘for posterity’. It provides details of a recent consignment of 65 yearling animals sent to JBS Brooklyn for Great Southern, producing an average MSA eating quality index score of 65.74 points, and average marbling score of 4.5, off grass.
“The producer’s secret? A combination of high-performance genetics, and the management of his cattle is sensational,” he said. “There’s a few producers we have identified that are in that realm, in terms of eating quality.”
Winner re-aligns management to suit Great Southern supply
This year’s overall Great Southern Beef Supplier of the Year, Jock Richmond and family from Rosegrange Pastoral Co, Little River, near Geelong has supplied the Great Southern program since its launch seven years ago.
The Richmonds run a mixed beef, sheep and cropping operation on several properties, but have dramatically changed the livestock side of their business to better align with the Great Southern program.
Prior to the launch of Great Southern, most of the annual steer turnoff was sold as feeders into feedlots, but all young cattle are now sold as grass-finished steers and cull heifers under the Farm-Assured program.
Investment in genetics and nutrition
“The way we manage the business is very different from where we started with the Great Southern program around 2011,” Mr Richmond said.
“From the genetics side, we’re buying better bulls, and not only is that coming out in the steers we’re producing, but also the females being retained in the herd. It’s delivering a massive step-up in the genetic pool in our cow base.”
“Marbling is obviously an important feature in genetic selection, but we have to be careful chasing marbling that we don’t lose some of the other productive traits,” Mr Richmond said.
The Rosegrange Pastoral operations range from medium to higher rainfall country, selling between 800 and 1000 steers and cull heifers into the JBS program each year. Most are Angus-based, some with a little Shorthorn infusion.
“Nutrition is just massive for us – it represents perhaps 80 percent of getting top performance, under our circumstances. That’s involved a lot more use of annual ryegrasses, phalaris clover base and in the business’s higher rainfall country, growing grasses more along high-input dairy farming lines.”
Optimising fertiliser programs to maximise nutrition performance has been another key.
Turnoff is now spread across 8-10 months of the year, incentivised by Great Southern price premiums in the leaner months. Silage has been a factor in delivering that, but so too has growing high-quality grasses to underpin winter turnoff.
Mr Richmond said the shift to the MSA carcase index model had been a ‘fantastic’ step forward in ability to analyse performance and benchmarking.
“The first thing I do now when looking at a set of carcase data on 50 or 100 steers is to go straight to the bottom line in the index. We try to get as close to 65 index points as we possibly can – it doesn’t always happen, but it gives us a target. We cracked a 70 in an animal one day, which was a highlight, and just show’s what’s possible.”
The transition to finishing cattle rather than selling as stores had not been as difficult as he might have anticipated in the early days, Mr Richmond told Beef Central.
In his acceptance speech, he emphasised the value of having a premium product market target to aim for, rather than producing a more ‘commodity’ type product.
“If you are back in the pack in the industry, you tend to be a price taker. Differentiating your product in some way is a key to gross margins. I don’t think we do it that much better than anyone else, but we just try to be consistent,” he told the audience.
Top 10 Great Southern Beef Suppliers 2018:
1: Richmond family, Rosegrange Pastoral Co, Little River via Geelong (Brooklyn) 94.7748 points
2: Wadley family, Laceby VIC (Brooklyn) (94.4675pts)
3: David Allen, Boorook Partners, Woorndoo VIC (Brooklyn) 92.9100
4: Kaicowrie Proprietors, Penola SA (Brooklyn) 91.4075
5: AM McGregor & Sons, Delungra NSW (Scone) 89.9835
6: Leon Condon and family, Codrington VIC (Brooklyn) 89.7450
7: Hennessy family, Witfield VIC (Brooklyn) 88.5525
8: Peter Watson, King Island (Longford) 88.4775
9: Ellingerrin Pastoral, Inverleigh VIC (Brooklyn) 87.3700
10: Jan Whistler, Wangaratta VIC (Brooklyn) 86.915
Top 10 Great Southern lamb suppliers 2018:
1: Willswood Farm (Bordertown) 95.6600 points
2: Josh and Wayne Hancock, Kingston SA (Bordertown) 95.4225
3: AJ & PA McBride, Millicent SA (Bordertown) 95.3700
4: David Graham, Gundagai NSW (Brooklyn) 94.4500
5: Paraway Pastoral Co, The Bulls Run, Wagga Wagga NSW (Brooklyn) 94.3750
6: John Davies, Davies Ag Service, Berrigan (Cobram) 93.6200
7: Bergan Park, Keith SA (Bordertown) 93.2200
8: Tallageira Pastoral, Francis VIC (Bordertown) 92.8824
9: WT Harvey & Co Casterton VIC (Bordertown) 91.52
10: Bob and Rosie Legoe, Lucindale SA (Bordertown) 91.49.