Independent evaluation of MGB

Marbled Grass-fed Beef (MGB) was a 7-year Primary Growth Partnership programme. Its aim was to produce meat that consumers would view as the best grass-fed beef in the world. The programme finished in late 2019. Read about the results of an independent evaluation of the programme.

Background to the MGB programme

Internationally, high-quality beef is usually produced from cattle housed in feedlots and fed corn and other grains. As a result, there is consumer demand for grass-fed, free-range, high-quality beef.

Much of New Zealand's beef is lean and destined for use in burgers and smallgoods. MGB aimed to develop premium, high-quality, marbled, grass-fed beef that is internationally recognised for its superior eating qualities. This would be more profitable to all parts of the value chain.

MGB was a 7-year Primary Growth Partnership programme between:

  • the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI)
  • Firstlight Foods Ltd and Firstlight Wagyu (NZ) Ltd
  • Brownrigg Agriculture Group Ltd.

MGB used Wagyu sires with high-marbling genetics crossed with dairy and Angus dams to produce cattle with 50% Wagyu genetics. The programme also developed rearing and grazing systems to support year-round growth of these cattle.

Evaluation of the MGB programme

As part of its monitoring process for PGP programmes, MPI commissioned an independent evaluation. This looked at:

  • outcomes and benefits
  • programme execution
  • any lessons.

What the evaluation found

The overall finding was that MGB was a "successful and worthwhile" programme for all parties. The programme's major achievements and benefits include:

  • First Light grass-fed Wagyu can be produced year-round, to provide consistent and reliable supply
  • 80% of First Light Wagyu cattle are now from dairy industry calves, providing a higher-value alternative for bobby calves
  • the go-direct marketing model is well established in New Zealand and on the west coast of the USA, and both markets are expected to grow
  • progress has been made towards a farm-gate price premium target of $2.12/kg for First Light grass-fed Wagyu
  • First Light grass-fed Wagyu has achieved premiums of $0.80 to $1.22/kg throughout the programme. This reached a high of $2.93/kg in April 2020 during disruptions to the global market due to COVID-19
  • processing numbers are increasing and will soon reach 20,000 head of cattle per annum
  • a target annual volume of 30,000 head of cattle is feasible by 2025/26
  • farmer support and feedback shows that adding Wagyu to their operations has been profitable
  • First Light grass-fed Wagyu is profitable, and produces higher returns than typical prime beef operations
  • farmers, processors, and retailers see social or "values-based" benefits
  • the MGB value chain has been profitable for everyone involved
  • there is value in working closely with in-market partners, and cooperating to create products that consumers want
  • it's possible to create a product that's worth more by growing it the right way in the right place
  • the economic benefit-cost ratio from the programme is 2.0, confirming that it has been a worthwhile investment.

MGB lessons

The lessons learnt include:

  • farmer support is required to improve performance and increase scale
  • farmers will be more supportive of change if they believe in it, instead of just looking at increased profits
  • parts of the value chain needed to be streamlined, and connections and communication needed to be improved
  • the governance approach of the Primary Growth Partnership (now Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures) can be integrated into the way industry co-investors operate
  • programmes run better when staff turnover is low
  • it's helpful for people starting in governance roles to go through a good "on-boarding" process to make sure they understand the role of governance
  • programme partners can benefit from continuing work together even after the programme finishes.
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