Positioning New Zealand beef at the premium end of international markets and delivering long-term economic benefits are the key goals of a PGP programme producing highly marbled grass-fed beef from Wagyu-cross animals. The programme is being led by Brownrigg Agriculture Group Limited and Firstlight Foods Limited.
Much of New Zealand's beef is lean and destined for use in burgers and small goods. Internationally, high-quality beef is predominantly produced from cattle housed in feedlots, and fed corn and other grains.
Consumer demand provides an opportunity for grass-fed, free-range, high-quality beef to be positioned in niche markets.
This PGP programme will develop an integrated value chain for high-value, marbled beef that is internationally recognised for its superior eating qualities.
Key to this proposition is the use of Wagyu sires with high-marbling genetics for the yearly mating of dairy heifers and cows, and development of rearing and grazing systems that support year-round growth of these cattle.
The programme will utilise calves that are currently by-products from the dairy industry. Dairy breeds – such as the Friesian, Jersey and the Friesian/Jersey cross known as the Kiwi cow – can produce marbled beef, so mating them with Wagyu sires should provide an excellent source of high-marbling beef with the desired meat and fat colour.
As a result of this project, New Zealand beef will become prized globally as a high-quality, "centre of the plate" meat, much like the position New Zealand lamb already commands.
Mating numbers for the 2018 calendar year were over 54,000, a 20% increase on 2017, with calf numbers forecasted to exceed 20,000 in 2019.
Six farmer fact sheets have been developed and published. These capture the results of research undertaken during the programme and put them into practical guides on how they can be implemented on-farm.
There are over 350 farms involved in the production model, with these spread across New Zealand.
The Wagyu model has delivered sustained calf premiums to breeders from the dairy industry, and farmer returns continued to exceed prime steer prices.
All year round supply of animals for processing is being maintained.
A range of products have been developed and are being sold with a suite of production claims that align with the demands of consumer and that are generating premiums – First Light Foods is the first New Zealand company to be verified by Certified Humane for its animal welfare standards.
Extensive retail distribution has been established in New Zealand, the USA and the UK, with a direct-to-consumer channel also established in the USA.
Programme start: August 2012 Length: 7 years PGP funding: $11 million Industry funding: $12 million Crown funding paid out to programme for work done to 30 June 2019: $10,493,512 Commercial partners: Firstlight Foods Ltd, Brownrigg Agriculture Group Ltd Estimated potential economic benefits to NZ: $95 million per year by 2025