A global investigation into the production and marketing of grassfed and organic Wagyu to generate new opportunities for Australia’s beef industry is the focus of a new Nuffield research report released recently.
Undertaken by 2016 Nuffield scholar Sarah Hughes, who manages Tumbar Station in central western Queensland with her husband Fred, the research report allowed Ms Hughes to visit a number of leading beef enterprises.
Inspired by her own certified organic company, which has secure long-term supply agreements with a number of Wagyu feeding operations, Ms Hughes said she saw an unprecedented opportunity to assess the business case for Australian organic and grassfed Wagyu cattle including production, breed traits, genetics and price premiums.
Characterised by a distinct marbling quality, Wagyu is the result of an intensive grain diet combined with a genetic potential to marble.
Grassfed Wagyu has the same distinctive marbling, although to a much lesser extent.
‘‘Interestingly, on my Nuffield journey it also became clear that to many consumers, grassfed beef was more appealing than organic beef,’’ Ms Hughes said.
‘‘This is not just from a scientific health perspective, but also because of the increasing corporatisation of organic farming.’’
While Ms Hughes saw great potential in Australian grassfed Wagyu production, she said there were commercial challenges involved as well.
‘‘Some large-scale producers will face issues around consistency and degree of marbling with grass-fed Wagyu, and some cuts generally perform better than others,’’ she said.
‘‘Currently, the value of the long-fed Wagyu model, which is the most common method in Australia, lies in its ability to achieve consistency and associated strong prices for the whole carcase, which is why they attract such significant premiums.
‘‘This long-fed model is exemplified by Australian brothers John and Keith Hammond, who own and operate Robbins Island Wagyu.
‘‘The company has been praised for its Wagyu beef from renowned chefs such as Tetsuya Wakuda and Neil Perry.
‘‘However, the brothers discontinued their grassfed offering once it became apparent that the business case didn’t stack up.’’
On her study tour, Ms Hughes visited Japan, the home of Wagyu, and the experience provided her with a greater understanding of the origin and traditions associated with fullblood Wagyu cattle.
‘‘If the conditions are right, there are certainly niche markets available for Australian Wagyu producers,’’ she said.
‘‘My key take-home is that consistent quality, reliable supply and the proposition of value is fundamental to achieving success with grassfed or organic Wagyu.’’