A MAJOR processor believes the Southern Downs has the potential to become the next major prime lamb-producing hub of Australia as world demand outstrips domestic sales.
Andrew Jackson, livestock manager from Thomas Foods at Wallangarra, was speaking to local producers at the 2013 Warwick Show and Rodeo Society prime lamb competition.
We believe in it to the extent we have already invested a $1 million in infrastructure improvements and we plan to spend another $1 million on a new lamb boning room.
He said this year for the first time lamb exports would surpass domestic demand bringing market stability and creating major opportunities for local producers.
Driven by interest from the Middle East and China, and a falling Australian dollar, the broader market has the capacity to "iron out" price fluctuations driven by seasonal domestic markets, Mr Jackson said.
"Once, people wouldn't buy lamb on a 40 degree day, but a broader market irons out those highs and lows," he said.
"So demand is on the rise.
"At our Thomas Foods plant in Wallangarra, for example, we were killing 800 head a day this time last year, now we are processing 1300."
He said currently the business sourced 30% of lambs from the Southern Downs, with the capacity to buy more as they became available.
"This region is now strategically placed to take advantage of this market expansion," Mr Jackson said.
"The Southern Downs had water and access to regular saleyards - two elements critical to prime lamb production.
"So it could well become the next prime lamb hub, rivalling places like Forbes."
He said lamb producers needed to be made aware of the opportunities and reassured about the long-term stability of the export market.
"We believe in it to the extent we have already invested a $1 million in infrastructure improvements and we plan to spend another $1 million on a new lamb boning room."
Mr Jackson said the increase in business had trans
lated to an additional 30 staff at the Wallangarra plant and employee numbers were likely to keep rising.
In terms of lamb production, he said buyers were looking for pasture, crop or grain-finished lambs with a dress weight of between 20 and 24kg and a minimum fat score of two, preferably three.
"We also need any lambs we buy to be from producers, who have Meat Standards Australia accreditation," Mr Jackson said.
"Warwick Saleyards are MSA-accredited and it is not a daunting process to become accredited from a producer perspective.
"In reality it is just best practice and commonsense, and it will translate to a premium in the saleyards."
Local buyer and sheep producer Joe Browne agreed that becoming MSA-accredited was the way of the future.
"It is not hard, and if it improves the market options for your lamb, it's a smart move," he said.
"I would strongly encourage local producers to either talk to their livestock agent or Meat and Livestock Australia and start the process."
Graham Greenup from Marylands Pastoral Company took out the grand champion and reserve champion pen of three lambs at the 2013 Warwick Show and Rodeo Society hoof competition and was surprised by the emphasis on MSA accreditation.
"To be honest, I haven't heard much about it," Mr Greenup said.
"But if it pays to have accreditation, I will definitely be looking into it."
The experienced local producer was also intrigued by talk that the Southern Downs could become the next prime lamb hub.
"I think it is encouraging and very positive, but on the ground I think there are issues like wild dogs that may make some of us a little hesitant to expand," Mr Greenup said. "In the Stanthorpe region, we may also be hindered by soil type. We don't all have the capacity to produce a lot of feed.
"But around Warwick the idea may have a lot of merit," Mr Greenup said.
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