Looking to the blue sky pay-off
31 August 2012
From in-crush cameras that measure condition scores, to processing technologies that extend the shelf-life of our products, Australia’s red meat industry has an innovative future thanks to the its longterm and balanced investment in research to build productivity and profitability.
Terry Longhurst, MLA’s Strategic Science Manager said MLA involves producers and processors when identifying the big challenges to be overcome to move industry forward.
“This engagement underpins the development of MLA’s five-year research strategies for beef, sheepmeat, animal welfare, animal health and biosecurity,” he said.
MLA invests $3.6 million/year into strategic science. A well known strategic science investment is Meat Standards Australia (MSA), which transitioned from a ‘blue sky’ research program in the 1990s to applied science to identify the critical control points throughout the supply chain that guarantee eating quality, to finally encouraging adoption of these findings by producers, processors and end-users, with the economic benefits continuing to grow today.
Strategic science projects are prioritised by their potential benefit to industry, be it economic, environmental, market access or other. Although ‘blue sky’ projects stand to deliver huge benefits to industry, they are not without technical or commercial risk.
“MLA applies a rigorous evaluation and only invests in high risk projects if there is a high net benefit,” Terry said.
Some examples of current strategic science include
Livestock Data Link
It’s long been a complaint of livestock producers that feedback on the carcase performance of their animals is difficult to obtain. A web-based tool is being developed to enhance the exchange and utilisation of carcase performance feedback, linked to the NLIS database. Processors can automatically enter performance data on individual carcases. This is complemented by a ‘Solutions to Feedback’ library, providing producers with tools to address specific issues to boost market compliance. Producers can benchmark their herd/flock at a regional, state and national level, and performance data will help set priorities for industry research. The pilot program is underway in several processing plants with a broader roll-out planned pending evaluation of the pilots.
3D image analysis
By late 2013, the humble cattle crush could be a one stop cattle information centre. P8 fat, rib fat, a frame score and muscle score established by 3D images taken as the animal moves through the race or crush will be available to the operator at a touch of a button. Developed by MLA, the NSW Department of Primary Industries and University of Technology Sydney, the technology will potentially feed into prediction tools such as the BeefSpecs calculator, which matches young cattle to markets.
Skeletal growth compensatory gain
Northern cattle typically alternate weight loss in the dry season with weight gain in the subsequent wet season. Animals with higher levels of dry season weight loss tend to compensate by growing faster the following wet season than animals with lower levels of dry-season weight loss. This compensatory growth can erode benefits of dry season supplementation. MLA and the UQ are conducting strategic research into interactions of dry season liveweight gain/loss, skeletal growth/elongation, and compensatory growth. This may lead to developing more cost-effective supplementation regimes and management interventions to drive profitability through improved growth rates.
A watering hole or a protein shake for young cattle? MLA and University of Queensland (UQ) are investigating how to develop and harvest on-farm algal ponds as a source of high-value protein and energy supplements. It is based on the premise that nutritional limitations of northern Australia’s pastures can be partly overcome by critically-timed additional protein. The high protein algae would provide a locallyproduced, low-cost source of protein.
Reducing livestock emissions
It’s a massive project to deal with a massive industry challenge – finding the silver lining in carbon emissions for livestock producers. MLA is coordinating a $20m (approx) Australian Government research program from 2012–15 in partnership with nine research agencies building on knowledge developed from the Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research Program (2009– 2012). Research will be conducted into feed additives, nutrition, rumen processes, genetics, modelling and management practices to identify ways to reduce livestock methane emissions while also increasing farm productivity.
High pressure processing (HPP)
MLA is investigating HPP’s potential for red meat, following its success in creating fresh tasting long-life fruit juices. Hydraulic pressure (equivalent to 200 elephants standing on a CD) is applied to products immersed in a liquid medium. This inactivates food-borne pathogens while maintaining integrity and freshness without preservatives. MLA is also conducting strategic research with CSIRO to see how HPP could tenderise meat with high connective tissue.
Very fast chilling (VFC)
KFC revolutionised the chicken industry and VFC could do the same for beef and lamb. VFC reduces carcase temperature quickly to limit growth of microorganisms for longer shelf-life and reduced preservatives. Chilling a carcase too quickly is known to cause cold shortening (toughening) of meat, but MLA’s strategic research has found if chilled rapidly enough, cold-shortening can be avoided and eating quality is maintained.