News and Views

Setting a world record pace – Richard Norton MLA

The Australian red meat industry is positioning itself as a world leader in the use of objective measurement technologies, Meat & Livestock Australia’s (MLA) Managing Director Richard Norton said recently.

Mr Norton detailed the plan to advance objective measurement systems through the red meat value chain at the East Gippsland Beef Conference in Bairnsdale, Victoria.

Mr Norton said the plan, developed by MLA with industry partners, will drive the adoption and use of new objective measurement systems and technology from farm gate to dinner plate.

MLA would also create new ways for generating objectively measured data and ensure transparent feedback systems through all stages of the value chain, he said.

“Objective measurement has the potential to transform the red meat industry by improving efficiency and underpinning a new, value based pricing model,” Mr Norton said.

“If delivered successfully, the returns across the value chain are estimated to be in the region of $250 million per year by 2030.”

Mr Norton said MLA’s plan was the culmination of 20 years of research investment across the red meat industry and included the development and roll out of world leading on-farm and off-farm precision measurement technologies coupled with integrated feedback systems.

“Our aim is to fast-track the commercialisation of these technologies,” Mr Norton said.

“This will see the progression of measurement systems that provide objective information on a wide range of areas such as eating quality, carcase yield and grading, market specifications, feedbase, nutrition, reproduction, animal health and welfare, and traceability.”

Examples of objective measurement technologies include:

  • On-farm 3D camera imaging – using cameras to measure indicative body composition characteristics of cattle and predict lean meat yield, which includes meat, bone and fat, and eating quality. This will help producers achieve market specifications and receive payment based on expected carcase traits and subsequent value.
  • Whole of carcase x-ray systems – developed by MLA in conjunction with Scott Automation and Robotics for optimising lamb and beef boning and cutting operations. MLA, Scott and Murdoch University have recently demonstrated an additional opportunity in the high precision measurement of lean meat yield with these systems.
  • Hyperspectral camera – using enhanced images of loin eye muscles to better measure the colour and size of the most valuable carcase products and provide intra muscular fat marbling measurements.
  • Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIR) – used to analyse the fat, moisture and protein content of meat and other quality traits such as meat colour, ultimate pH and ossification.

Mr Norton said many in the industry had been vocal in their desire for more objective measurement and value based pricing systems.

“Industry bodies and red meat producers who sell livestock directly to processors have often expressed concerns about the validity of carcase measurements that determine the payment they receive,” Mr Norton said.

“Objective measurement technology – used effectively throughout the value chain – can bring an end to the debate and ensure greater efficiency and trust throughout the industry.

“Australia already leads the world in eating quality science and with this plan we will lead the world in objective carcase measurement too.”

MLA’s Value Chain Digital Strategy

The objective measurement project is one of the leading projects within MLA’s Value Chain Digital Strategy, launched by Mr Norton in July.

The Strategy aims to empower every participant at every point in the value chain by harnessing the multitude of new digital technologies and big data.

The project is being advanced with the support of a $4.8 million Australian Government grant secured by a collaboration of researchers led by MLA to develop new live animal and carcase measurement technology.

MLA, supported by Murdoch University, also recently facilitated a three-day workshop with key industry participants to chart the future of objective measurement. Participants included producers, processors, researchers, peak industry councils, service providers and commercial organisations.

The funding and ongoing collaboration with industry partners will be crucial to ensuring the successful application of objective measurement across industry.

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