A research trial by Meat and Livestock Australia that could potentially open up unprecedented Meat Standards Australia (MSA) pathways to slaughter for northern beef producers will soon enter its second phase.
The project seeks to understand how long distance rail transport affects the eating quality of beef, with the aim of opening up the pathway to MSA cattle.
MSA program manager, Sarah Strachan, said the new pathway had the potential to deliver an estimated $50 million annually in additional returns to industry.
“Thousands of northern cattle are transported to slaughter by rail through major trucking yards at Cloncurry, Longreach and Quilpie each year, however, current MSA time-to-slaughter requirements render these cattle ineligible for MSA grading,” Ms Strachan said.
“The outcomes of this research will inform the MSA grading model so we can accurately predict the eating quality of these cattle.”
The research is part of MSA’s 2020 goals, set by the MSA Taskforce to make all pathways that cattle travel to slaughter eligible for MSA grading.
Stage one of the project directly compared the results of cattle that travelled to slaughter by rail, to those transported by road.
A total of 240 trial cattle were sourced from two properties around Quilpie, with half travelling to Brisbane by train and the rest travelling by road.
Following MSA grading, four cuts will be collected from each carcase and prepared for sensory testing with almost 9,000 consumers over the next two years.
“The next stage will involve a more complex study of long distances and extended travel times with variations to rail and trucking travel including intermittent rest and feed regimes to evaluate the impact of various rest and recovery strategies,” Ms Strachan said.
“Stage two is intended to start in April or May, governed by when the trains get going again and the season up there.
“That first stage was really about taking cattle from a direct comparison of straight train verse truck. We will repeat that again because we also want to get it across different seasons, but we'll also do a rest and recovery stage.”
Ms Strachan said cattle for stage two would again be sourced from the Quilpie region, along with cattle from Clermont and Longreach.
Cattle Council councillor David Hill, Clarkwood, Clarke Creek, has been MSA accredited since the early 2000’s and said it was an opportunity that needed to be extended to northern and western producers.
“In a good season, there's plenty of good cattle come out of that country and by way of the extended trucking times or even rail times, they're not eligible for MSA as it currently sits,” Mr Hill said.
“You look at poor buggers now, I think one of the biggest opportunities in this country for further development is in those places that sadly are in the situation now of going from six or seven years drought in some cases, to a one-in-100-year flood.
“I think we need to put opportunities in front of these producers because those people have got to have some level of confidence that what they're going to do is going to put more money in their pocket.
“The only way they have confidence to invest in their business is to know that they're going to get a potential gain out of it.”
Mr Hill said the opportunity wasn’t about expanding numbers in these regions, but rather, improving the quality of the product.
“There's no point improving the quality of the product at the minute because they're not eligible for MSA,” he said.
“I believe our point of difference in this highly competitive global market's got to be more and more about the eating quality of the product we produce.
“We as producers have to understand that we're part of the supply chain, anything you can do to change the value of the product at the other end is something that’s needed more, and with this value-based marketing, all supply chain participants should share in the extra profit.”