Aussie beef producers held build bridges as part of Japanese P2P visit

Jon Condon, 14/06/2013

P2P visitors in as Japanese supermarket retail venue A GROUP of Australian beef producers has just returned from a visit to Japan where they developed ‘grassroots’ relationships with Japanese beef producers, and helped build understanding about trade access issues.

The P2P (Producer to Producer) visit followed a similar exercise earlier this year when a small group of Japanese beef producers came to Australia for a similar learning and exchange experience.

In some cases, the Japanese farmers hosting the Australian group last week had already visited some of the groups’ own businesses in Australia earlier this year.    

Members of the P2P tour group included:

  • Jordan Peach, manager of the Mort &Co Grassdale feedlot on Queensland’s Darling Downs
  • David Maconochie, who manages his family’s Hopkins River feedlot business near Dunkeld in Victoria (See Beef Central’s earlier profile here). Both David and Jordan are former ALFA Young Lotfeeders of the Year.
  • Annabelle Coppin, an extensive livestock producer from WA’s Pilbara region
  • Alison McIntosh, a livestock and NLIS consultant and producer based near Holbrook in NSW
  • Greg Bradfield, a Tasmanian commercial beef producer
  • Andrew Gray, a genetics and seedstock producer from Texas in southern Queensland, and
  • Emma Redden, the youngest of the group, at 23, an Angus producer based near Gunnedah in NSW.

MLA Japan region manager Melanie Brock said the P2P program had its origins in the immediate post 2011 Tsunami period, when Australia activated a fodder aid and support program called Together with Japan.

That saw the delivery of container-loads of Australian hay to producers in areas devastated by the earthquake and subsequent after-effects, including flooding and radiation contamination.

“Even though the Together with Japan program was an expression of humanitarian commitment from the Australian beef industry, it became apparent that the issues that came up as part of that process like youth in agriculture, market access, regulatory burdens, rising costs of production and business enterprise viability all emerged because of the opportunity for grassroots producers from both countries to talk, face-to-face,” Ms Brock said.

“That stimulated us to try to find a life for the program, after the immediate after-effects of the Tsunami declined,” she said.

“It’s been a great way for the Australian industry to show an expression of support for Japan in the post-Tsunami period, but also to make sure that our Japanese colleagues better understand Australia’s position on a range of issues, including trade access.   

In many of Japan’s key beef producing areas visited by the tour group last week, it quickly became apparent that many of the issues that are front-of-mind among Australian producers are shared in Japan.

“A key role in the process, of course, was also to try to grow beef consumption in Japan, for mutual benefit, and to help the Japanese producer better understand Australia’s position in terms of market access, and the implications of a Free Trade Agreement,” Ms Brock said.

“The beauty was that because of the relationships that have already been built between the group members, there was no reluctance to discuss sometimes personal and sensitive issues with each other.”

“It showed us areas where Japanese primary industry is changing, and where it is looking for ways to go forward, and for that reason alone it was a remarkable opportunity.”

Eye-opener for visitors

One of the many highlights was a barbecue held with locals from a major beef producing region of Japan, attended by the Australian Ambassador, and several important Japanese politicians.

It was the first trip to Japan for all seven participants, and provided an eye-opener for all involved, one of the group members, David Maconochie said.

He said many Japanese beef producers the group had spent time with appeared to have a ‘pre-programmed’ view on the potential risk to their businesses associated with an FTA with Australia. However without exception, they changed their position dramatically after the opportunity for dialogue with Australian grassroots producers.

“There was an understanding that there are inevitably areas where we compete, as beef producers, but there are also many segments where the two supply sources are poles apart,” Mr Maconochie said.

One of the Japanese farm hosts made a speech suggesting that Japanese producers had always seen the Australian beef industry as ‘quite threatening’ in terms of market share, and they wondered what Australia’s agenda was.

“But after discussion he better understood the different segments both suppliers operated in, and appreciated the discussion about common challenges in both countries. The Australian group worked really well in breaking down those barriers,” he said.

He said it was obvious after visits to Japanese retail and other outlets that Australian and Japanese domestic beef were largely targeting two different markets.

“There are huge contrasts between what they are trying to produce and what we produce,” Mr Maconochie said. “We visited one heifer feedlot which feeds cattle for 36 months on grain.”

He said the big message was how little overlap there was in terms of any competitiveness, should an FTA be struck between the two countries.

“After our discussions, they saw that it is not about one pinching market share from the other, but about trying to grow awareness and demand for beef in Japan and building the size of the overall beef market.”

“The domestic industry is already running at capacity, and has little opportunity to expand, should Japanese demand grow. Their own production costs are huge, with 80-90 percent of feedstuffs imported. That’s why they have to chase the high-end beef market, in order to be able to justify those production costs.”

“By and large, the Japanese domestic industry is providing better-end restaurant standard beef, while Australia is providing supermarket and food service beef.”

Mr Maconochie said there was a lot of common ground in discussions with Japanese producers. Succession planning was a common theme, as was the rising cost of production, and regulatory burdens.

“As I said in a tweet: Same problems and challenges, just a different language,” he said.

The group visited both private and corporate-owned enterprises, ranging from small breeding and feeding businesses up to a 4000-head shedded breeding herd on the northern island of Hokkaido.

One producer operated a 400-head feedlot, linked to his own integrated restaurant and butchery, which is 80pc supplied in beef from within the business.

The group also visited the Fukushima region which was badly affected by the 2011 Tsunami, and another affected by wind-blown radioactive waste.

“To outward appearances, it looked like there’s nothing wrong,” Mr Maconochie said.

“It’s not like a bushfire or a flood, where the damage is obvious. In this case they are trying to remove a 5cm layer of topsoil in order to try to beat the problem. But it will take decades.

  • Nominees for the tour were chosen and put forward by peak council and state-based producer groups.


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