THERE was high spirits and equally high expectations as a group of 40 Wagyu industry players from across Australia gathered at Sydney Airport this afternoon to take part in a fifteen-day tour days of the Japanese Wagyu industry.
The information-rich itinerary developed by the Australian Wagyu Association will include visits to prominent Japanese Wagyu cattle breeders, feedlots feeding Australian and Japanese purebred Wagyu cattle, meat research institutes and other destinations of interest.
The program will conclude with a visit to Japan’s famous Zenkyo – the National Wagyu Livestock and Carcass Show – an event full of color, pomp and ceremony, which only takes place once every five years.
This year’s event takes place near Kagoshima, in the deep south of Japan, in an area renowned for its production of Wagyu beef.
Part Wagyu stud competition, part genetics showcase, part food festival and trade show, Zenkyo attracts large crowds of people from all of Japan’s 46 prefectures, as well as growing contingents of overseas visitors.
CEO of the AWA Matt McDonagh said this month’s tour would provide an important benchmarking opportunity for Australian Wagyu, as the last tour was undertaken in 2017.
As shown in the map posted here, the route of the Australian tour group from tomorrow will cover the whole country, from the island of Hokkaido in the far north, to farms and feedlots around Sendai , Osaka, Kobe, Tottori and Shimane, before the Zenkyo event near Kagoshima in the Deep South.
While the bulk of this year’s tour group is made up of Australian Wagyu cattle farmers, feedlot operators, supply chain managers and industry service providers, it also includes small contingents from Brazil, the United States and Austria.
Matt McDonagh said the tour’s international contingent reflected the fact that the Australian Wagyu Association now had over 300 international members on its books.
“Everyone involved has high expectations for the tour,” he said.
Evolution of reproduction – in Australia and Japan
“Five years ago on the previous tour, the Japanese Wagyu production system was undergoing significant change. This time around, we would expect to see evidence of the evolution of Japanese Wagyu production systems and goals. »
“During the 2017 Wagyu Tour, some Japanese industry players were talking about targeting an A3-grade Japanese casing, rather than necessarily aiming for the pinnacle – A5.”
“Their thinking was that it would potentially be more profitable to produce.”
One of the clear messages from five years ago was the huge cost of production faced by Japanese Wagyu feeders and producers, with up to 90% of feedlot feed imported.
“Part of this decision to produce more A3 quality carcasses instead of A5 was lower cost of production, reduced feeding time and reduced total slaughter time. There was a certain feeling risk reduction, trying to achieve A5 ratings,” said Dr McDonagh.
He said the tour would provide a great opportunity to compare Australia’s progress to the best in Japan.
“The Japanese have been producing heavily marbled beef for a very long time, and visits like this are part of the Australian industry’s learning process, finding new ways to innovate and advance the product we can produce. “
Over time, the Australian Wagyu industry continued to develop more ‘like’ the Japanese equivalent. The trend towards greater Japanese influence in feeding systems was evident in areas such as the increased use of permanent shedding versus feed pens in some Australian feedlots feeding Wagyu cattle.
“In the Australian industry we have also seen trends towards reduced feeding times over the last five years,” said Dr McDonagh. “That was evident in the F1 and Fullblood/purebred programs.
“Similarly, some Japanese Wagyu feeders were showing interest in reducing the return time to 24-26 months, compared to 30 months in some cases.”
But while there had been a general reduction in the number of feeding days in Australian Wagyu programs, there had been significant increases in the abundance and consistency of marbling over the same period.
“It’s almost counterintuitive,” Dr. McDonagh said.
“The Australian industry has reduced the average carcass weight from around 420kg to 435kg, while reducing feeding time over the past five years. At the same time, the mottle score went from an average of 7.6 to closer to 8.”
“It will be interesting to see how Japan has progressed over the same period. In Japan, production appears to have been more focused on maintaining existing carcass weights, but finishing cattle sooner – more accelerated growth towards a target carcass weight, in fewer days of feeding.
“In contrast, Australia is pushing to increase marbling score and carcass weight, while reducing feeding time.”
Dr McDonagh said Australia was not necessarily looking to compete with the Japanese Wagyu industry, “but it’s really exciting to compare our progress with theirs,” he said.
“There is certainly a lot more appreciation and respect within the Japanese Wagyu industry than what Australia is doing now to improve Wagyu performance,” he said.
“In fact, we think it’s great that Japan’s Wagyu industry is now highly prized in international beef export markets like the United States, where it sends high-quality A5 beef at incredible prices. , as it elevates the “Wagyu brand” for all growers around the world. ”
- beef center Jon and Cat Condon participate in the 2022 AWA Japan Wagyu Tour and will file reports during and after the event, including observations from tour participants.