South Australian wool and sheep meat producer chooses MLA for progress

Terry Sim, November 24, 2017

The new MLA directors, from left, Alan Beckett, Andrew Michael and Russell Lethbridge.

SOUTH Australian Merino breeder and sheep meat producer Andrew Michael has unashamedly chosen Meat & Livestock Australia over Australian Wool Innovation to progress his industry.

And he wants vendor declaration system differentiating unmulesed from mulesed prime lambs, in a similar fashion to differentiating the animal welfare status of wool with the National Wool Declaration.

Speaking personally after gaining his MLA board seat with a 79 percent vote result in his favour, Mr Michael said “huge numbers of people” had encouraged him in the past six months to seek an Australian Wool Innovation directorship,

“I didn’t feel I was the right fit and that there could be personality clashes there, without question, from my point of view.”

Mr Michael was among the MERINOSELECT breeders in an AWI-funded research focus group earlier this year, who were observed by AWI chairman Wal Merriman behind a one-way mirror, without the participants’ permission.

Speaking personally, Mr Michael said it doesn’t matter to him whether AWI or MLA address the areas that he wants covered to progress the industry.

“But I think most of the things that I would like to see moved forward, can be done through MLA.”

These included new sheep and cattle breeding technologies, and addressing industry animal welfare and mulesing policy.

Mr Michael said the operation had not mulesed a sheep since 2004.

“Our Merino flock is a big part of our business and pretty at much at any stage we would have 6000 stud sheep that are fully DNA-marked and have every bit of data taken on them and they are all unmulesed.”

Mr Michael supported the Sheepmeat Council of Australia’s statement that prime lambs should not be mulesed. But he would like to see the prime lamb industry address the mulesing issue with a vendor declaration similar to the National Wool Declaration for wool, but identifying unmulesed lambs.

“A majority of the prime lambs aren’t mulesed anyway and we need the world to know that.

“Not going out and saying that we are going to make everyone stop mulesing, but work through the industry bodies that we’ve already got in place now,” he said.

“We might find that there is a premium through the EU and some of these overseas markets for identifying these (unmulesed) lambs.

“Without doubt, we have to listen to our customers,” Mr Michael said.

“We listen to our customers as seedstock producers, but we also have to listen to our customers overseas.

“We tick our unmulesed wool on the declaration, so when we sell prime or Merino lambs that have not been mulesed, I want that space to tick that box.”

Mr Michael said this level of transparency would ensure that sheep meat producers become accountable for what they produce.

Mr Michael said when it came to prime lambs, the industry should not distinguish between second cross, maternal crossbred or Merino lambs from a meat marketing perspective.

“In my opinion, they are there for their meat production and it would be madness for the Merino industry not to have a serious look at that.

”The trials show us that eating quality for beef and lamb is absolutely paramount; it is the next big wave coming forward and some Merinos have some of the best eating quality you can find.”

Mr Michael said if producers want produce a premium eating quality product within Merino flocks they have to identify the animals with the genes for eating quality and lean meat yield.

“That’s where the market is going.

“It will decide whether people are going to be just wool producers or whether they are going to be producers of genuine dual purpose animals that has high quality meat.”

Mr Michael said there has been a strong focus at Merino ram sales this year on wool production, but with research showing that dentition did not determine meat quality, he expected even mutton markets will become educated on eating quality. In the future, Merino producers might be faced with whether they are losing money on wool and meat value because of mulesing status, he said.

“It will be interesting to see where people sit on this in the future.”

Mr Michael said his experience with being observed by AWI chairman Wal Merriman in the ‘man in the mirror’ incident had reinforced his decision to seek an MLA board position.

“It reinforced that I probably don’t fit (with AWI) as the right person, with the mentality of the (AWI) board and with quite a lot of the organisations that work with AWI.”

Mr Michael said he classed himself as a ‘grass roots’ producer, focused on how commercial people run their businesses. He was impressed by the enthusiasm and the openness of the speakers at Red Meat 2017 and the MLA annual general meeting.

“It was clear from my point of view, from my first real contact with MLA, that they are aware of being open and transparent, when we know that there are some others that aren‘t that way.”

MLA presentation covered technology use and succession

Mr Michael said his presentation to the MLA outlined the business the fourth generation farmer runs with wife Rosemary, including their succession plan and use of technology in breeding sheep. They work a 1500ha family farm at Snowtown, and over the last 15 years have purchased grazing land in South Australia’s north east pastoral area and in south east SA.

Over the last 45 years they have built and operated a large scale sheep meat and wool business that includes both terminal and maternal sheep. They also trade and lot feed cattle. He has extensive experience in the use of breeding technologies in both the sheep and cattle industries, and over the last 35 years has incorporated all the latest leading edge animal breeding technologies available. This has included DNA, Jivet, skin biology and genomics.

“We actually use all of the tools that have been developed by our scientists and researchers.”

He has been a great supporter and user of all the sheep industry groups, including The Sheep CRC, Sheep Genetics, the Information Nucleus Flock and MERINOSELECT. Mr Michael said he also covered his awareness of animal welfare aspects within the sheep industry, including minimising chemical use, footrot and worm resistance.

“All of those things are crucial to us moving forward.”

Mrs Michael said she felt that MLA was “on the same page as we were on.”

“And that there was a strong push from a lot of the committees and people involved to make things go forward.”

Mr Michael said his priorities on the MLA board include firstly understanding how MLA and its leadership groups worked and encouraging the adoption of new technologies in the sheep and cattle industries.

“I would like to get a better understanding of the importance and adoption of breeding values in the cattle industry.

“Without question, I feel my place on the board on MLA is to have a real strong connection with grass-roots sheep producers in Australia, South America, New Zealand, and everywhere else.

“I’ve got a really good connection with basically 80-90pc of the sheep industry, but I really want to try to have the same connection with the cattle industry too and put a real basic grass-roots thought process within MLA.”

The other new MLA skills-based board members include Victorian cattle producer and professional services expert in audit, corporate services and risk management Alan Beckett, who received 80.5pc votes in favour.

Northern cattle production systems specialist and Queensland cattle producer Russell Lethbridge received 86.9pc votes in favour of his election.

MLA members also voted on the election of three producer representatives to the MLA Board Selection Committee – one grass-fed cattle representative, one grain-fed cattle representative and one sheep-meat representative.

The results were:

Mr Peter Quinn as the grass-fed cattle representative

Mr Tony Fitzgerald as the grain-fed cattle representative

Mrs Jane Kellock as the sheep-meat representative.

The role of the selection committee is to call for applications, review, interview and then report to members on the suitability of candidates for election to the MLA board. The committee is currently made up of two non-voting MLA Directors, three representatives nominated by producer peak councils and four producer members who have been directly elected by MLA members – one sheep meat, one grain-fed cattle and two grass-fed cattle representatives.

More than 400 producers make it to Alice Springs

More than 400 producers and industry representatives have participated in a packed program of events as part of MLA’s Red Meat 2017 in Alice Springs, which wrapped up this week with the 2017 MLA annual general meeting.

The two-day showcase event for the Australian red meat industry featured a producer tour, business breakfast, industry forums and trade show which highlighted the latest research, innovation and marketing insights.

MLA chair Dr Michele Allan provided the AGM with an overview of the industry over the last 12 months with a particular focus on the performance of the cattle, sheep meat and goat markets. While looking at the challenges and opportunities ahead for the industry, Dr Allan also reported on the work of MLA, including the ongoing strengthening of Australia’s critical integrity and traceability systems and the work of MLA Donor Company in driving innovation for our industry.

MLA managing director Richard Norton reported on the performance of the MLA over the last 12 months, including how the company is meeting the KPIs as set out in the Meat Industry Strategic Plan, with the ultimate goal of fostering prosperity in Australia’s red meat industry. Mr Norton focussed on the work being undertaken around ensuring we are responding to and meeting consumer demands, including addressing growing consumer demand for a sustainable product and a plan that could see our industry become carbon neutral by 2030.

Andrew Michael has been a member of the Royal Adelaide Show Pastoral Committee having served 22 years, two of which were as president, until October 2017. He is a previous member with SA Sheep Disease Management Committee focusing on OJD and Spider Syndrome. Mr Michael was one of the Australian White Suffolk Foundation Committee members, serving 16 years, including two as President. He is also an Honorary Life Member and Distinguished Service Award member of the Australian White Suffolk Association.

Ms Kellock has had a lifetime involvement with the sheep industry and is currently a director of Kellock Farming. She has been a part of the South Australian Blueprint group and has been selected as the Regional Chair of the South Australian Committee of SAMRC. Ms Kellock has been an active member of the MLA Selection Committee for the past three years, has a good understanding of what is required in a strong board member and what the issues are for the industry.


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