Archive for May, 2019

US market embracing Aussie beef

THE United States is proving to be the land of opportunity for Australian beef producers, soaking up nearly 400,000 tonnes of Aussie beef in 2014 and showing no signs of coming off the pace in 2015.
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Along with sheer tonnage, Australia is driving a thin wedge into the US grassfed beef market, a small but growing and important niche.

Advice on “healthy eating” that includes beef now seldom to fails to mention grassfed and/or organic in the same context. Australia is a prominent producer of both categories.

All the signs for continued demand from the US market are favourable, reports David Pietsch, Meat and Livestock Australia’s International Business manager. The biggest cloud in the picture is Australia’s ability to supply that demand as the flow of local slaughter cattle shrinks.

US cattle prices slipped slightly in late 2014, but they still remain well above the long-term average. US Department of Agriculture forecasts that 2015 prices will be around the same levels as at the end of 2014.

The price of Australian beef is trending up, too, in line with the increased cost of cattle following widespread rain.

In most markets, as the price of a commodity climbs, consumers tend to move away to buy something else. But this is America.

“There are reports – or at least talk – of more chicken and pork items on menus in the US, including in quick service restaurants and chains that traditionally have relied heavily on ground beef,” Mr Pietsch said.

“For poultry in particular, there is some inevitability that as it increases production it will grow usage due to price advantages. That said, growth in burger sales is still very strong as the US economy continues to recover, and that is a good sign of resilient beef demand.”

Within all this activity is the growing US demand for grassfed beef.

“We don’t want to oversell it,” Mr Pietsch said of the US grassfed market. “It remains only a niche imported segment within a massive domestic grainfed protein market, but I’m sure most Australian grassfed beef producers would be quietly pleased that their product is gaining more recognition for its positive attributes, rather than being seen purely as a commodity.”

MLA’s grassfed beef marketing efforts, in partnership with suppliers, have been “strongly directed” by the desire of AgForce Cattle and Cattle Council of Australia’s (CCA) marketing taskforce members to promote grassfed beef’s positive attributes in the US market.

The timing seems about right. Chilled grassfed beef exports to the US were up 89 per cent year-on-year in 2014, amounting to more than A$1 billion for the year.

A “significant amount” is finding its way onto retail shelves and in foodservice outlets supplying consumers focused on healthy and natural foods. Rapidly expanding burger chain Chipotle is buying an unknown quantity of Australian grassfed beef as part of its “responsible sourcing” program that focuses on grassfed and hormone free product.

Mr Pietsch thinks Australian grassfed beef sales in the US are falling into three main categories.

The long-standing market for frozen, lean, grassfed manufacturing beef still accounts for 65-70 per cent of Australian exports to the US, and has grown off the back of lower cow slaughter in the US.

In the next tier is beef for further processing or value-adding into manufactured meat products, meal solutions, jerky, or foodservice preparations like beef fajitas and deli meats.

The “much smaller but growing” niche is in retail, Mr Pietsch said. Retail is absorbing a range of products, like the one-pound ground beef ‘brick’ (mince), chilled ribeyes, tenderloins, striploins (sirloin), and top sirloin (rump). A growing number of restaurants are taking “considerable amounts of chilled beef”.

Future growth in these segments will somewhat be dictated by continued growth in US market demand, Mr Pietsch concluded, and by Australia’s capacity to supply.

MLA’s marketing is concentrating on developing brand loyalty to Aussie beef, in the hope that US consumers will continue to seek out the product in the face of potentially higher prices.

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Sense of belonging

Mireille JuchauMIREILLE Juchau is unsure whether her third novel, The World Without Us, should be classified as “cli-fi”, an emerging genre of fiction that puts our changing climate squarely in the middle of a story.
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Bees are dying, properties are being sold off to mining companies, there’s a sense of despair among the farmers; it’s a near future that rings too true. But, like books such as Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour which have both been placed in this genre, the real story here is about people and the things that bind them together in the face of adversity.

“One of the things I was interested in engaging with,” Juchau says, “were questions around what happens to us when our environment changes.

“I wanted to explore how climate change affects us internally . . . what that does to our sense of belonging and what happens to us when we don’t recognise the places we’re attached to.”

Juchau says she read an interview with United States environmentalist Bill McKibben, who said one of the best things we could do, in preparing for climate change, was to live somewhere with a strong sense of community.

“I have always been really interested in how our communities support us when everything around us is shifting and changing,” she says. “But what happens when those communities fracture and how do we survive that?”

And in a sense that’s what happens in The World Without Us. The Muller family is reeling. Stefan, the father, is watching his bees die; Evangeline, the mother, is grieving for a daughter, seeking consolation in the arms of Jim, an outsider who is also grieving the loss of a child. Their daughters Tess and Meg are struggling too: Tess has stopped talking; Meg’s art is dark.

“Family is a kind of community but when a family experiences some kind of thing that fractures it, when there are problems in a family, we’re forced to create something outside the family to support us until it’s resolved,” Juchau says.

“That’s very much what’s going on with the family in my novel, there’s something that’s unarticulated and that means one of the central characters has to find her support elsewhere.”

In a sense the Mullers’ story engrosses you so much that you forget about the environmental concerns even though they are always there, looming.

And that was precisely Juchau’s intention.

“The books I love to read are not didactic. I love how you can read something that has incredibly powerful things to say about the world and about our emotional selves but you gain that through the story and through engaging with the characters.

“I love novels of ideas, where the ideas take centre stage, but I felt here I wasn’t trying to convey one single message, one particular thing to get across, but rather involved myself in the complexity of these questions. I think if you want to be true to the subject [of climate change] you have to acknowledge its complexity. No one has a single solution to what’s happening to our environment. There are many competing voices, competing stories.”

Juchau, 45, has two children of her own, now 13 and 10. Looking at climate change from their point of view was an interesting part of the process with this novel.

“How do we talk to children about the world that they’re inheriting and what do they think about these narratives that are constantly surrounding them about the world ending, this very apocalyptic narrative about what’s going on in our environment?

“Perhaps it isn’t necessarily the best story for children and maybe we need to think about how children manage that huge burden of the future.”

The World Without Us

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Legislate on buyback cap, says Ley

Bob Baldwin and Sussan Ley on the MDB listening tour this week.NSW Liberal MP Sussan Ley has urged the Coalition government to move on legislating for the 1500 gigalitre cap on water buybacks they committed to in opposition.
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“We’ve got to ensure that rural industries in the Murray-Darling Basin survive and thrive,” she said, standing alongside new Parliamentary Secretary to the Environment Minister, Bob Baldwin, at Tuesday’s funding announcement near Deniliquin.

“A legislated cap will give additional security to irrigated agriculture – and that’s vital.”

Mr Baldwin said he’d only been in his new job five weeks and hadn’t formally returned to parliament since the appointment was made, to consider any draft legislation related to advancing the water buyback cap.

He said any draft legislation would be put through Environment Minister Greg Hunt to take to cabinet for final approval.

He stressed the cap was a Coalition election commitment and “we’re committed to it”. But he said, “We’re not going to put legislation to the parliament if the Senate is going to play silly buggers and knock it back”.

Mr Baldwin said the government would legislate the 1500GL cap but Victorian Independent Senator John Madigan, who also toured Basin communities this week to gather stakeholder views and support for a Senate inquiry into the Basin Plan, must vote with the government.

“All he (Senator Madigan) has to do is step up to the plate and support us in our legislative agenda to deliver the outcomes that you the people want on the land,” he said.

“We don’t have time for politics – we’ve got a potential dry period of 10 years coming ahead of us – we need to deliver outcomes and that requires the support of the States and the Senate.

“We can either play parliamentary games and make ourselves look big in the media by having all these inquiries, or you can get off your ass and actually vote for the legislation that’ll go through.

“People say it’s time for the rubber to hit the road well it’s time for the water to hit the weir.

“What we need is we need actually to see it (the Basin Plan) rolled out.

“Enough pontification, enough talk, now it’s time to walk the walk.

“There are people wanting too many inquiries (and) too much dialogue.

“It’s time to actually engage, get on top of it and start delivering and we want to deliver outcomes but we can’t deliver outcomes while people keep holding things up.”

Ms Ley said she believed the recent change in leadership at the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) would help to improve consultation with stakeholders in her electorate and generate better understanding, given Mr Andrew is an ex-irrigator.

She said it was “fair to say” some community members had lost confidence in the Authority, “when decisions and statements were made that didn’t pass the common sense test”.

“What we’ve missed out on is genuine consultation on the ground with communities,” she said while declining to give a specific example.

“I think it’s fair to say some in this community lost confidence in the Authority

Ms Ley said Mr Baldwin’s base understanding of agriculture’s economic importance to rural communities was a key to his new appointment.

“There are a lot of complexities in water and Bob is getting his head around all those and he will,” she said.

“But for me to have somebody in his position who ‘gets it’, in terms of we’re here to grow food to feed the nation and rice is a crop, a product and a contribution to the national economy that we should value as highly as possible…. is a great starting point.”

She said Mr Andrews would approach the Basin with a “neutral, dispassionate perspective but we’ll get him to feel pretty passionate about us”.

Mr Baldwin said he had no pre-conceived ideas about the Basin Plan but was “a very outcomes driven person”.

“You show me the method, show me the outcome (and) I will support the outcomes,” he said.

“We want outcomes for our farmers, we want outcomes for our environment (and) we want a balanced approach.

“I have no preconceived ideas – I came to this portfolio with a total open mind.

“I’m not an irrigator, I’m not a farmer so I’m prepared to sit down and listen to everyone.”

But Mr Baldwin reiterated the government’s key commitment to will deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full, across the entire spectrum.

“We will deliver wins for farmers; we will deliver wins for the environment – that’s why the federal government is stumping up the cash,” he said.

“We need all of the States coming together and working as a homogenous team to deliver the outcome across the board because no one State can deliver it in isolation; it’s a team Australia approach.”

“The plan that’s there has been agreed to by all four states and what we need to do is get it implemented.

“When it first came out everyone was hostile about it because we all felt threatened by it”Father and son irrigation team, Alan and Will Wragge, hosted Bob Baldwin’s Murray Darling Basin delegation on their property Yaloke west of Deniliquin on Tuesday, where they run a mixed farming operation producing rice, wheat, barley and oats, along with merino sheep and fat lambs.

Alan said in his opinion rather than community opinion, he believed the Basin Plan had settled down now, after years of ongoing conjecture during the design phase.

“When it first came out everyone was hostile about it because we all felt threatened by it,” he said.

“I heard that buying water off the farmers had stripped 50 per cent of the water out of Wakool district and that will be a huge headache for Murray Irrigation, with huge costs.”

Will said he had no great concerns about the Basin Plan which had, “gone quiet for a while and everyone’s forgotten about it a bit”.

He said talk suggested the federal government would now be trying to recover the remaining water volumes it needed through water efficiency projects, rather than water buybacks, which was easing community anxiety.

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US lamb prices finish 2014 on a high

WHOLESALE prices for lamb in the US, Australia’s largest export lamb market, finished 2014 on a strong note, with carcases fetching prices not seen since mid-2012, and cuts for the foodservice sector maintaining their strong improvements achieved earlier in the year.
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Meat and Livestock Australia reports while there is often a seasonal increase in lamb prices ahead of Christmas, carcases finished 2014 over 30US¢ a pound higher than a year ago, and 70US¢/lb higher than two years ago.

In addition, there was a strong utilisation of lamb stocks that had been building up in cold storage. USDA data showing that a record high of 40.2 million lbs in cold storage at the end of August had dropped to 31.4 million lbs by the end of November, with an increase again in December to finish the year at 33.8 million lbs.

Australian exports of lamb to the US were also high towards the end of 2014, with negotiated trades reported by the USDA showing their highest weekly volume since at least November 2011 in the week before Christmas.

Import prices, while showing some volatility from week-to-week, have also held up well against the high volumes, likely assisted by the falling $A.

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NZ lamb shipments decline in 2014

New Zealand (NZ) lamb exports were slightly lower (3%) in 2014, compared to the previous year, at 298,231 tonnes swt.
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Shipments to the EU declined 5% for the year, totalling 116,787 tonnes swt – largely attributed to an 8% fall in volumes to the UK (59,005 tonnes swt) during the year.

NZ lamb exports to China remained relatively steady year-on-year, at 89,202 tonnes swt, while the Middle East took slightly more (1%) in 2014 than the previous year, at 25,564 tonnes swt. Volumes to the US and Canada were back 2% and 8% year-on-year, respectively, at 17,785 tonnes swt and 8,407 tonnes swt.

During the first month of 2015, NZX AgriHQ report that despite processors being fully booked, demand from China has been subdued in the lead up to Chinese New Year, which has put increased reliance on traditional markets such as the EU and the US. Although, NZX AgriHQ suggest that the EU market may be affected both by their economic situation and by high stock levels of pork which would usually be exported to Russia, but have been stopped by the international trade ban.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand forecast that lamb exports for the 2014-15 season (October 2014- September 2015) will total 297,000 tonnes swt – back 2.6% on the corresponding period the year before.

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