A WORLD-FIRST lamb grid paying producers on lean meat yield, weight and intramuscular fat, with feedback on animal health at an individual carcase level has been launched by Gundagai Meat Processors in southern New South Wales.
GMP chief executive officer Will Barton said Gundagai Lamb’s Late Season Lamb Grid is a world-first lamb grid with an average price of $7.50 per kilogram on a hot standard carcase weight/lean meat yield basis for May, June and July delivery.
“My understanding is that Castricum Brothers and WAAMCO International may have used VIAscan units for a period of time 20 years ago to pay on lean meat yield and hot standard carcase weight.
“But I’m not aware of anybody who pays on lean meat yield, hot standard carcase weight and gives you individual IMF data as well as animal health data by carcase.”
On the grid, an intramuscular fat or marbling bonus of 50 cents a kilogram is payable for lambs with an IMF of 5 percent or higher. The grid was sent to selected producers last night and is for consignments of 150 lambs or more, of all breeds, although Merino, Dohne and SAMM lamb consignments are by application only and must be Meat Standards Australia-accredited.
“It (the grid) is being subscribed to at the moment,” Mr Barton said.
The first commercial lambs have been booked for processing potentially next week, although Mr Barton said GMP has done a number of trials over the past few months. The grid launched yesterday is the culmination of more than five years work to bring together various objective measurement technology and automatic carcase sortation infrastructure.
“We can objectively measure hot standard carcase weight and lean meat yield with DEXA, intramuscular fat with the MEQ probe and capture and report animal health data using our hook-tracking system.”
Mr Barton said the MEQ probe used medical grade lasers, photonic technology and machine-learning algorithms to give an objective IMF measurement in hot carcases.
MEQ chief executive officer Remo Carbone said his company was thankful for the partnership with GMP as an early adopter.
“It’s a great example of a business and technology provider coming together to deliver something meaningful.”
He said within the next 12 months he expected to see more MEQ probes in use for the hot carcase measurement of IMF in other plants.
Data needed on level of IMF in industry lambs – Barton
Mr Barton said GMP was also identifying where high IMF lamb could be marketed.
“But the challenge with it is you don’t know from week to week how many lambs will meet a premium criteria.
“So we’ve got to spend a period of time building awareness among producers, so they can buy into the idea of building their intramuscular fat, which is the intent of the 50c/kg bonus.”
Mr Barton said GMP also needed to find out how many of the lambs being supplied had a level of IMF to allow marketing as a premium product.
“We’ve been working on this for about five years and had a long program of investment to get these things to this point.
“We are very proud that we can offer what we think is a competitive price and at the same time offer world-class feedback.
“It’s a long process involving people finding out what they are producing and then taking steps to improve that over time,” he said.
“We believe very strongly that this is the future of the lamb industry.”
GMP initiative is exactly where the industry needs to go – Gardner
Murdoch University’s Dr Graham Gardner, the principal investigator of the ALMTech Project assessing advanced measurement technologies for Australian meat, said there have been other mean meat grids for lambs in Australia and up to 2012 WAAMCO in Western Australia offered a bonus for high-LMY lambs assessed with VIAscan.
Dr Gardner said GMP is a visionary company and a key collaborator with the ALMTech project from its inception.
“This is going to be the first time that we’ve actually had a finite measure in an abattoir, keeping up with chain speed, providing feedback on IMF.
“This is very exciting, and exactly the price signal that industry needs to balance lean meat yield and eating quality and maintain lambs position as a premium meat.”
He said despite abattoirs being in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic ALMTech’s collaborators, including GMP, have enabled it to continue projects.
“More power to them, this is exactly what I would expect from this company.
“In a way, GMP is like a petri dish site for us; they are highly innovative, very focussed on getting the best measurement technologies they can and they have the ability to track carcasses in plant, and therefore respond to that information through feedback to producers and by acting on it in plant.”
Dr Gardner said wider adoption of payment for lambs on the basis of LMY, HSCW and IMF would depend on individual processors.
“This is exactly what we needed to see in response to these technologies – this is the first one, the beginning, this is very exciting.”
Dr Gardner said GMP also understood the genetic antagonism between lean meat yield and eating quality.
“There are breeding values to try to manage the two traits – to optimise LMY and eating quality at the same time.
“But if you just pursue lean meat yield, then eating quality gets decimated and these guys completely get that,” he said.
“In a way this is the first commercial signal going back to producers that is balancing those two antagonistic traits of LMY and eating quality, through the DEXA and IMF measurements.
“This is so crucial, because if we do not fix this, then lamb will turn into pork and we will have a tasteless commodity protein,” Dr Gardner said.
“It (Australian lamb) is already expensive to produce.
“It needs to maintain its eating quality to be the top-end eating quality product that it currently is,” he said.
“In shining lights, this is exactly where industry needs to go.”
Dr Gardner said a lamb cuts-based Meat Standards Australia model, similar to the beef model, already existed and was ready to deploy.
But to enable the MSA lamb model to be deployed, the industry needed to be able to measure hot carcase weight, have knowledge of sire type, and have LMY and IMF values.
“The only thing holding back deployment of this model is the ability to measure IMF% commercially at abattoir chain speed. He said the MSA development team has a plan for commercial deployment.
“What they need is access to the on-line measurements that act as input values.
“The progress at GMP gets us a step closer to enabling the commercial roll-out of a cuts-based MSA lamb grading system.”
Up until now there had not been an IMF measurement device that could operate in plants, he said.
“The MEQ probe is one of three that we hope to see rolling out in the industry in the next 12 months.”
LMY and IMF measurement are good first steps – Tom Bull
Premium lamb seedstock producer and marketer, and former VIAscan researcher Tom Bull said the IMF measurement in lambs was always going to happen.
“There is no doubt the lamb industry will follow beef (on IMF), and segmentation will occur with plants drafting meat into high IMF categories and producers will get paid for that.
Mr Bull said payment on the basis of lean meat yield with IMF is “absolutely fantastic” and “a good first step.”
“But I would certainly prefer to see a primal yield measurement for lamb.
“Primal yield is the Holy Grail,” he said.
“As an example, in Sydney on the weekend, our (Hampshire Down) lamb racks at (speciality butcher) Victor Churchill were $75/kg and legs were $28/kg, so we sell products and racks and loins are where the money is.
“Lean meat yield doesn’t measure where the meat falls, it recognises the overall leanness of the carcase.”
Mr Bull with VQA Australia managed the development and commercialisation of VIAscan in Australia for Meat & Livestock Australia from 1998-2001.
“What Gundagai is doing is a great start, but I think MLA needs to fast-track primal yield measurement with DEXA.
“Where the cuts fall in the lamb industry is highly important,” he said.
“There are three components: how much lean meat there is, how good that meat is and which cut that meat falls into.
“We’ve got to get to primal yield really quickly.”
Mr Bulls said he was concerned about the antagonism between lean meat yield and eating quality in the industry.
“We’ve got to keep the fat on.”
Click here to read the full GMP late season grid package.