Managing director's report
Former managing director
Increased adoption will accelerate industry towards our goals
It is my pleasure to present the Annual Report 2022–23.
The last year has seen significant change for our industry following three years of herd and flock rebuild on the back of strong seasonal and market conditions.
Through much of 2023, drier conditions have seen re-stocker demand ease and an increased supply of livestock on the market, putting downward pressure on prices as a result.
MLA acknowledges the challenging conditions being experienced by many producers and we continue to focus our efforts on investments and activities that drive meaningful outcomes for the industry.
Over the past 12 months the red meat and livestock industry has built further momentum towards our carbon neutral by 2030 (CN30) target, with solid investments in research, development and adoption (RD&A). I am delighted to share some of the initiatives and major project highlights from the past year, and particularly showcase how they deliver both for the environment and in terms of productivity.
Boosting efficiency in the red meat industry fits hand in glove with meeting our environmental responsibilities, making it a sensible path to follow – and one that will only lead to increased benefits for our people, livestock and planet. We should be proud of the regard in which we are held by our fellow Australians – with three in five Australians currently feeling good about the beef and lamb industry.
As we complete the third year of our five-year Strategic Plan 2025, we remain committed to working on ‘fewer, bigger, bolder’ initiatives which will continue to drive us towards the ambitious goals set out in Red Meat 2030, namely, to double the value of red meat sales by 2030.
The theme for this year’s report is ‘Adopt and accelerate’ and it holds significant sway when we assess which projects to fund. The effectiveness of this approach is clearly demonstrated when we look at the impact our investments have had – an impressive $59 million in annual net benefits have been delivered to producers participating in MLA adoption activities over the past financial year.
A total of 13,757 producers participated in learning and training activities to grow their businesses. Producers’ commitment to the continual pursuit of excellence is a credit to our industry and has had a positive flow-on effect to 9.4 million sheep, 8.89 million cattle, 536,179 goats and 157.6 million hectares of grazing land.
On the international front, an exciting and long-awaited trading milestone was achieved at midnight on 31 May 2023 with the enactment of the Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement (A-UKFTA) – a landmark agreement that will streamline trade and reduce supply chain costs for our industry.
Sustainability remains a central focus and the figures we are achieving exemplify that. The red meat industry’s share of national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions dropped from 22% in 2005 to 10.3% in 2020. MLA aims to support industry to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by a further 5% by 2025 with an associated 20% improvement in livestock productivity.
As an industry we face the dual challenge of producing nutritious food to feed the world as well as the responsibility to protect our land and biodiversity. We hold ourselves accountable by measuring and reporting our net forest and woodland gain and loss annually and provide transparency through our annual reporting via the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework.
Producers now have access to our new Carbon Calculator, a digitised version of the SB-GAF and G-GAF calculators, which allows them to complete a carbon account for their sheep, beef and/or grain enterprise, with further updates in the pipeline. Calculating baseline carbon emissions and sequestered carbon is an essential first step for producers considering opportunities arising from low or zero carbon red meat, such as carbon-neutral branded products, or who simply want to improve their productivity and profitability.
MLA aims to bridge the gap and up-skill producers as they progress along their carbon journeys. Two new carbon management modules have been released on MLA’s free online learning platform, The Toolbox. ‘Measure your own emissions’ and ‘Carbon sense’ build on the success of ‘Carbon 101’ and provide guidance on the carbon accounting process and steps producers can take to reduce emissions.
On the international stage, our groundbreaking work is getting noticed, with MLA invited to support the Australian Government, National Farmers Federation (NFF) and Australian Forest Products Association (AUSFPA) to profile Australian agriculture’s commitment and progress in climate mitigation at the 2022 Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC summit in Egypt late last year. Our industry is being increasingly recognised as the global gold standard for proactively improving productivity while reducing environmental impact.
Back home, the CN30 program received the top gong for the ESG Enabler special award in the agriculture category within the Australian Financial Review Sustainability Leaders awards.
Ag-tech tools and resources
As producers find themselves in an increasingly digitised environment, MLA aims to ease the transition. By highlighting the productivity and efficiency benefits of the available technology we hope to drive uptake. However, we are aware of the need to provide a framework by ensuring that new technology is user-friendly, provides a good return on investment, and integrates seamlessly into producers’ ‘business as usual’ operations.
Two new tools for northern beef producers to drive fertility in their herds have been released this financial year: MLA-funded Genomic Breeding Values (GBVs) and herd profiling. These tools allow producers to identify high performing replacement females for greater transparency in management decisions to fast-track productivity gains.
Those who were able to attend the MLA Updates in Toowoomba last year would have seen the launch of a new electronic National Vendor Declaration (eNVD) app by Integrity Systems Company (ISC). This game-changing piece of technology will make life easier by removing the need for paper-based forms and overcoming the need for mobile connectivity. Visit the ISC website to access how-to resources to make the transition from paper a smooth one.
The Australian Feedbase Monitor was also launched at the MLA Updates and is a world-first pasture status satellite tool which takes the guesswork out of grazing management. Producers now have access to more precise pasture assessment data to make earlier and more informed grazing decisions to avoid forced stock reductions or unplanned supplementary feeding programs. MLA members can sign up for free at mymla.com.au.
In addition, our new Aussie Meat Trade Hub offers a one-stop-shop for resources on buying, selling and marketing Australian red meat across global markets. Standout features include an exporters database, a simplified brand and licensing application process, a self-managed trade show workflow function for exhibitors and access to self-service global insights to market data.
Keeping one step ahead of incursions
Australia continues to be officially recognised as a country free from foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and lumpy skin disease (LSD). Keeping on top of the threat is a priority and our support of the ‘FMD Ready’ project has enabled the delivery of its final report, new tools including advanced disease spread and economic modelling as well as improved virus strain characterisation. Read more about the project outputs in the Animal wellbeing highlights section on page 16.
We are committed to helping build the capacity of Indonesia’s beef industry to deal with ongoing outbreaks of FMD and LSD and have partnered with the Australian Government to provide biosecurity support. The 18-month, $1.95 million project involves delivering comprehensive biosecurity consultancy to major feedlot and abattoir facilities to reduce the risk of disease incursions and to minimise welfare and financial impacts.
We are assisting our Indonesian counterparts to develop cost-effective biosecurity management plans and have rolled out our FMD vaccination support project which provided $543,000 towards FMD vaccines for Australian cattle arriving in Indonesian feedlots. Enabling the continuation of our valued trading relationship with Indonesia and offering support when required remains a top priority.
MLA has been a key player in developing a strategy to protect Australia against LSD with the National Lumpy Skin Disease Action Plan launched in late 2022 to improve disease surveillance and keep the focus on the disease in our region.
In this vein, we recently funded a project to test mRNA vaccines that could be rapidly mass produced in Australia in the event of a lumpy skin disease (LSD) or other exotic disease outbreak. The vaccine is currently being tested for efficacy in animals and by year-end we will be able to determine if it is effective in ruminants.