Cattle producers concerned about public scrutiny

Looking ahead: Dixie beef and dairy producers Andrew and Diane Blain with ANZ Agribusiness Insights head Michael Whitehead.
Looking ahead: Dixie beef and dairy producers Andrew and Diane Blain with ANZ Agribusiness Insights head Michael Whitehead.

Concern about increasing public scrutiny of livestock management practices, the rise of “lab meat” and the difficulty for young people to own a farm were among the issues raised at a discussion this week with south-west livestock producers on future trends.

The discussion, which was led by ANZ Agribusiness Insights chief Michael Whitehead, focused on the cattle industry but also covered the dairy industry.

Some cattle producers said many metropolitan consumers had ill-informed opinions about livestock management and there was a skewed focus by the media on poor animal welfare.

One producer said the increase in overseas tourists travelling independently on the Great Ocean Road was exposing more people to local cattle production, with many stopping to take photos of cows.

He suggested a paddock to plate regional beef showcase would give many overseas visitors an idea of Australia’s high animal welfare practices.

On potential trade developments, Mr Whitehead said the “trade war” between the United States and China could benefit Australia if US beef exports to China were hit by any increased tariffs.

On the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, Mr Whitehead forecast the US would return as a signatory because it could not afford to shut out of the lucrative Japanese market.

On the outlook for cattle prices, Mr Whitehead said while they were dropping from earlier highs, he believed they would stay strong for some time.

“Processors are happy because demand is strong.

“If it does rain (in parts of eastern Australia currently experiencing dry conditions), supply will be held back and prices will go up,” Mr Whitehead said.

Another issue in the wide-ranging discussion was the emergence of lab meat, meat grown from stem cells in laboratories.

Mr Whitehead said he had heard that some people could not pick the difference between lab meat and meat from live animals.

But few at the discussion saw it as a threat to meat from farmed animals, saying farmed meat was seen as a superior product and lab meat was a long way from being commercially competitive.

One farmer said he was concerned the family farm, particularly in the dairy industry, was in decline but others said the track record of corporate dairy farms in the region was poor. 

Mr Whitehead said a decline in family farm numbers could be part of a consolidation into larger enterprises. 

On developments in cattle selling platforms, one producer said he was using Facebook to sell cattle.

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