CATTLE industry heavyweights are fed up with distractors to the objective carcase measurement job, saying beef’s progressive players are being held back by unwarranted intransigence.
A bucketload of due diligence has been worked through on the rollout of dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) in processing plants, all pointing to enormous unlocked potential, and it’s time to call out those muddying the waters, they say.
The simple fact is if Australia’s processing sector does not become more globally competitive via systems like DEXA and the automation it enables, the cattle game has a bleak future, industry leaders including Cattle Council of Australia, Meat and Livestock Australia and prominent processor Teys say.
An uncompetitive processing sector would mean less and less choice for where cattle can be marketed, CCA president Howard Smith said.
The latest claims that Teys is no longer committed to DEXA because its rollout was progressing too slowly are inaccurate, the company told Fairfax Media.
“There is no doubt the technology works,” Teys chief value chain officer Tom Maguire said.
“We have proven that we can take accurate x-ray images of beef sides to determine amounts of meat, fat and bone and also identify critical points in bone structure to enable automation.”
Things were a little behind schedule due to integration of the technology in the Rockhampton plant and ensuring it can work at production speed, he said.
But that was to be expected, given the enormity of the task.
Teys was committed to the value based marketing concept that OCM would deliver, Mr Maguire said.
“We have been providing lean meat yield estimations based on an equation designed by Murdoch University for about 18 months. The output from DEXA will improve the accuracy of this number,” he said.
“We understand that ultimately yield and quality is a trade off. However there is a ‘sweet spot’ that a producer can target to ensure better returns.
“We can see swings in carcase value based on the current predictions by nearly $1000.
“As genetic tools develop we are confident that producers can use accurate feedback to grow their returns. We will do everything we can to support the development of these tools.”
The big processor has no plans to change current payment models in the short and medium term.
“We would rather supply the information to our producers and give them the opportunity to make better decisions to grow their business,” Mr Maguire said.
“Remember that new genetic tools are also under development. We are confident that when people have had time to implement tools into their business, we will be in a position to discuss new systems to reward performance.”
Mr Maguire explained OCM technologies offered the opportunity to accurately measure the differences in individual bodies and train robots to adapt to these differences.
“For years we had been saying that automation in beef processing would be possible if we could engineer all the cattle to be the same. We don't have to think like that anymore,” he said.
Beef had already become the luxury protein and Australia would only be able to command high prices by providing consumer with exactly what they want, both Mr Maguire and Mr Smith said.
“It is well published that we are a high cost country in which to process cattle,” Mr Maguire said.
“We cannot hope to hold our position in international markets if we don't address this.”
Automation wasn’t about making large reductions in the number of people needed, rather it focused on improving productivity, yield and product recovery.
Criticism from within the industry was disappointing and misplaced, Mr Maguire and Mr Smith said.
“I have even seen a group of producers siding with the meat workers union, which is baffling,” Mr Maguire said.
“These producers must have short memories of industrial campaigns which almost crippled the industry.”
Resistance to DEXA was reminiscent of the pushback to the introduction of eating quality program Meat Standards Australia 20 years ago and the more recent pasture fed certification scheme, Mr Smith said.
Both have proven to deliver enormous benefits.
“It’s extremely short sighted to say what happens in the processing plant doesn’t affect the producer,” Mr Smith said.
“All our competitive proteins are utilising this technology.
“And yes, sometimes technology is superseded but you have to be progressing.”
From the producer’s perspective, the ideal was all plants with the ability to utilise OCM technology in order to retain diversity and competition, Mr Smith said.
“That’s what was behind MLA’s $150m plan (for DEXA to be rolled out in every plant) and that’s why CCA supported it,” he said.
“Let’s not let opportunity go begging by listening to the lowest common denominator.”
The story DEXA distractors doing damage, say cattle industry leaders first appeared on Farm Online.