China push for organics

Strong demand for organic beef in China and the US is driving an increase in exports.

Way of life: Mick and Terri-Ann Crothers have embraced organics since they became the managers of Gilling, Yelarbon. Gilling is owned by OBE.

Way of life: Mick and Terri-Ann Crothers have embraced organics since they became the managers of Gilling, Yelarbon. Gilling is owned by OBE.


China is set to surpass the US as Australia's largest organic beef export market as strong demand continues.


EXPONENTIAL demand for organic beef is driving the industry and certifiers in their bid to shore up supplies, with China set to surpass America as Australia's biggest organic beef export destination in several years.

Australia's oldest organic beef marketing company, OBE Organic, is experiencing huge demand for its organic beef, particularly trimmings in America.

OBE Organic general manager Dalene Wray said demand for Australian organic beef in America had been increasing monthly.

"In the US there are a lot of manufacturers and processors of beef products that are starting to put in organic lines," Ms Wray said.

"We have got big retailers that have already been doing organics for many years and now we have other retailers coming on line wanting raw material to make value-added organic beef products."

OBE Organics produce about 80-90 tonne of organic beef per week which equates to 330 head of cattle.

The company has a stronghold in America, Asia - particularly Hong Kong where Ms Wray was based with the company up until March this year - and the Middle East, and supplies domestic markets as well.

"We are putting a bit more into the international market at the moment because the Australian dollar is weak," Ms Wray said. "We are agile in that we can direct our product where it needs to be at the right time."

The 2014 Australia Organic Market Report put the total value of organic beef at $198m, with compound growth of 127 per cent through 2011–2014.

The huge demand is pushing up the returns to organic beef producers in line with current prices for conventionally grown beef.

OBE Organics is running an aggressive marketing campaign to shore up supplies including assisting producers to be more profitable and flourish.

It is the first corporate partner of Grazing BMP, a voluntary industry-developed tool to improve all aspects of sustainable cattle production, and the company held its first forum in Roma in late August.

But while its making a concerted effort to secure more organic beef, Ms Wray said building other parts of the supply chain was equally important.

"Producers of products that complement organic production like fodder, equipment and supplements are seeing opportunities and they are the ones that are investing in organics," Ms Wray said.

"Suppliers to the industry are listening and they are bringing organics into the boardroom.

"If you are conventional you should consider organics as tool in your toolbox.

"There are so many agricultural businesses that are on the edge and if they started to bring organics into their product line and ask themselves what the organic producer needs to survive they could start to develop."

National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA) general manager Ben Copeman said while America was taking the bulk of Australia's organic beef, China was close behind.

"Anything that has Australia written on it is seen to be clean, green and environmentally safe," Mr Copeman said.

"I see China probably be the biggest export destination in five years."

NASAA and other organic certifiers are working closely with the industry including suppliers of inputs to build supplies.

Mick and Terri-Ann Crothers have embraced organics as a way of life since taking up the post as managers of organic beef property, Gilling, Yelarbon, four years ago.

"Michael and I are fairly open to anything that is going to look after our environment, the soil and pastures," Terri-Ann said.

That attitude has made way for a whole new lifestyle for the couple and their three children, Josephine, 11, Patrick, 10 and Hugh, 4.

The 2200ha property is used as a fattening and staging block for organic beef marketing giant, OBE Organic.

Numbers vary between seasons, from a high of 2500 in the summer to about 300 head in the winter.

"I don't think anyone wouldn't think organics is a healthier, more natural option for food,” Terri-Ann said.

I don't think anyone wouldn't think organics is a healthier, more natural option for food - Terri-Ann Crothers

"The challenge is in persuading people that you have to pay a premium because your (organic) farmers have to constantly think about non-conventional methods.

"Farm life is good for a family - the open spaces and fresh air - but the fact that we have gone that one step further can only be beneficial for us a family and the land that we are living on."

Cattle graze on the mostly flat, grey soil Brigalow country and are supplemented by organic wheat pellets, when needed.

Gilling fattens its own cattle - mostly poll Herefords - and accepts organic cattle from areas west.

Mick said in a good season, weight gains can amount to 1.5kg but can drop just as much in poor seasonal conditions.

Organic producers tackle the same issues like grazing rates and weed and pest battles and strive to deliver an animal that will meet market specifications.

"We are very conscious about how heavy we graze," Mick said. 

"Biological controls are keeping most weeds under control but sometimes the only control is chipping."

While conventional livestock producers can reach for veterinarian medicines to treat sick animals, organics has forced Mick to be a bit more creative.

 "When we have problems with pink eye, we cover the eye with a patch," Terri-Ann said. 


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