How sustainability and profitability can go hand in hoof

Andrea Crothers (left) facilitating the panel discussion at the ABSF Annual Update launch in Sydney with Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA) President, Barb Madden and ABSF Sustainability Steering Group members Carl Duncan, Kari Moffat and Jenny O’Sullivan.

Key points:

The relationship between profitability and sustainability was a key point of discussion at the 2022 Australian Beef Sustainability Framework (ABSF) Annual Update.

Key points

  • A panel of four leading beef industry professionals, moderated by Sky News’ Andrea Crothers, navigated the importance of ensuring environmental, social and financial sustainability across the value chain
  • The panel spoke of using MLA conducted research, regenerative practices, innovation, and data, along with supporting all members of the industry.

THE complementary relationship between sustainability and long-term financial resilience is one of focal points of the modern Australian beef industry and an issue four leading voices from across the value chain discussed at this year’s ABSF Annual Update.

Moderated by Sky News’ Andrea Crothers, the panel included Barb Madden, President of the Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA) and Financial Controller at Smithfield Cattle Co., Jenny O’Sullivan, a beef and sheep producer in the South Gippsland region, Carl Duncan, Chief Sustainability Officer at Teys Australia, and Kari Moffat, Animal Welfare Assurance Manager at AUSTREX.

MLA Research proving useful

Barb Madden said the feedlot industry had listened to market research undertaken by MLA, which found that consumers were motivated by animal welfare, and had committed to all feedlots being fully shaded by 2026.

“It’s been an important focus for ALFA for the past five years,” Mrs Madden said.

“We’re setting that benchmark of 2026 – we’re at about 60 percent now – but we expect all feedlots under the national feedlot accreditation scheme to be fully shaded and we think it will be a wonderful day.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of infrastructure involved in building shade, but there have been a number of research and development trials that we’ve done over the past five years looking at the commercial gains or disadvantages of having cattle in shade or out of shade.

“Overwhelmingly the research has shown that productivity increases. Cattle are more comfortable under shade, so productivity increases under shade, so it’s a win-win all round.

“The cattle are comfortable and happy and the businesses are more profitable.”

One word answer to sustainability focus

Jenny O’Sullivan said her philosophy could be summed up with one word.

“We see that we’re not only custodians who want to protect and preserve but we really love the word ‘flourish’,” Ms O’Sullivan said.

“We want to grow and improve the land, we want to create habitat for biodiversity, we want to make sure our animals are healthy and flourishing and we want to make sure that our people and our families are happy and healthy and flourishing as well.

“So, we think that really encapsulates sustainability, not just at a farm level but at an industry level as well.”

Small steps are having big impacts

Carl Duncan said the need to be innovative was crucial.

“We talk a lot about the little one percenters in our business,” Mr Duncan said.

“No leaking taps, every kilowatt hour counts, every drop of water counts, all those lean manufacturing types of activities.

“And then it’s the step change – so the big investments we make in renewables. For example, we’ve already got biogas in five of our six facilities but are looking to expand.

“We also have to be really deliberate with our communications; making sure we are collecting the right data points and we can measure those levers of sustainability that help guide us as we progress on our journey.”

In 2018, Teys set five-year targets to reduce water intensity by 10 per cent, carbon intensity by 20pc and to source 30pc of energy from renewables – and Mr Duncan said the company is on track to meet them.

Importance in supporting young industry professionals

Kari Moffatt, from livestock exporter AUSTREX, said one of the other important aspects of sustainability was caring for people in the industry, both professionally and personally.

“We are a small industry, but we do have a lot of young people coming up through the supply chain,” Ms Moffatt said.

“As a young person myself – I started in the industry when I was 19 – I worked on vessels, I worked in market and there’s so much room for development both professionally and with a support network.”

In 2019, Ms Moffatt and other colleagues developed the Young Livestock Exporters Network.

“We’ve now got 250 members Australia-wide, particularly in the north of the country, and we’ve found young people want opportunities to grow and if we want to keep them in the industry we have to give them those opportunities.”

Data collection leading risk management

Ms Moffatt also stressed how important data was for AUSTREX, saying the company had developed a custom-built auditing app for its supply chain.

“Data and information is getting digitally captured and I’m getting all that information here in Australia in real time and that helps with corrective action or training requirements,” Ms Moffatt said.

“But it’s also helped us, in collecting that data, to make better decisions in how we manage risk.

“We do a fantastic job in our supply chains. We don’t just talk the talk we have that data to backs up that what we’re doing is a fantastic job. When it comes to do we have a sustainable trade and why we’re doing it – which is to ensure food security in developing nations – we play an extremely important role.”

Ms Moffatt said data would also be key to continuing to grow the robustness and value of the ABSF to all stakeholders as it continues to strive for continual improvement.

“We need to consider how do we better resource it and build the awareness because the more data we can bring into the framework the more information we have to communicate the great story we have,” Kari said.

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