July 17, 2012
New Zealand to invest US$8.8 million to breed high-quality beef cattle
An investment of NZD11 million (US$8.8 million) for a programme to breed high-quality beef cattle will be put up by the New Zealand government, with those behind the plan saying sales of the beef could be worth around NZD846 million (US$676 million) by 2028.
Brownrigg Agriculture Group Ltd. and Firstlight Foods Ltd., two New Zealand companies involved in the early stages of the project, will look to research crossing dairy heifers with Wagyu sires to produce high-value marbled grass-fed beef products under the programme, the companies said in a statement Monday (July 16).
The programme will research the genetics of the cows, develop feeding and farming practices, and develop a brand and marketing projects, they said. Interested farmers will then be able to use the information to sell their products to market, operating similarly to a co-operative.
"We want the red meat sector to be more profitable and if they (farmers) focus on producing quality beef, it could give them the ability to get very high returns," Firstlight Foods Managing Director Gerard Hickey said in an interview.
A lot of the 3.8 million cows currently slaughtered for export produce lean manufacturing-grade beef destined for burgers and small goods.
David Carter, the minister for primary industries, said in a statement that the government was investing in the programme-- which has a total research budget of NZD23.7 million (US$18.9 million) as part of its plan to boost economic growth through primary sector research and innovation.
The venture currently has just 12 farmers involved but the hope is this will grow to around 200. Hickey said a small amount of the product was already in retailers' shops in New Zealand.
New Zealand beef prices have recovered in recent years, reaching historical highs in late 2011. However, the industry has struggled to provide the returns enjoyed by the country's dairy sector and many farmers have swapped to dairy from beef.
Hickey said he believed a high-quality product, which was grass fed rather than grain fed, would garner interest in international markets.
"We are excited about a number of markets like Japan...But probably the most exciting thing is what is going on in the US at the moment," said Hickey. "At the top end of the market in California there is a growing awareness of grain lots and grain feeding, and a desire to head to what we're all about which is grass feeding."
The company is targeting a cross between New Zealand dairy cows, which already produce a marbled meat, with the Wagyu sires because that produces cattle better suited to being grass fed and the New Zealand conditions, he added.