Clean, Green Grass Beefs up Beef Quality - Dept of Primary Industry, Parks, Water & Environment, Tasmania

Monday 31st of May 2010

Tasmanian grass-fed beef is fast becoming a menu highlight in many of Australia's finest restaurants, thanks to a branding success story emanating from the State's North West.

Clean Green Grass

'Cape Grim Tasmanian Natural Beef' is the label that's making waves - as far away as Hong Kong and New York - and it's also how leading chefs including Sydney's Tetsuya Wakada, Melbourne's Neil Perry and Brisbane's David Pugh choose to describe the product in their menus. Some also stress upon discerning diners that it's a 'grass-fed', natural product, a flavour quite distinct from the grain-fed beef so popular in recent times.

Besides emphasising the State's undoubted reputation for high quality natural foods, the success of the labeling initiative devised by H.W Greenham and sons is increasing returns for around 70 North West beef growers.

The far North-West has long been renowned for top quality beef but until less than two years ago, farmers thought only of being paid on a per-head and per-kilo basis.The introduction of Meat Standards Australia grading at Greenhams' Smithton plant last year has underpinned the success of the new branding exercise as well as providing the basis for providing quality-based increased returns to farmers.

The MSA has been operating for some time interstate but is relatively new to the Tasmanian industry. It's licensed assessors grade beef on a scale of 18 levels and it's not just colour, marbling, fat content and the like that are important for producing the best eating beef. Methodologies for raising, delivering and slaughtering cattle are critical for high gradings as stressed animals will inevitably produce lesser quality meat. The inclusion of even one 'outsider' beast in a mob being trucked to the abbatoir can be enough to greatly compromise eating quality.

"It's not good to mix mobs of cattle - they're quite territorial and an outsider can cause a lot of stress," says Greenham’s Tasmanian manager Peter Greenham. "Stress leads to darker, tougher meat. Feeding regimes are very important too and it's a key reason why north west Tasmania produces such wonderful beef - lush, green grass and rain that some places would kill for. We have MSA graders on-site every day at our Smithton plant and they send data out every day. We pay our growers a premium on top of what is already a good per kilo rate for the best quality carcasses."

Stanley farmer John Bruce, who owns the historic Western Plains and Highfield beef properties, says the MSA gradings allow Greenhams to market quality as well as providing incentive for growers to get better at what they do. "If Greenhams can attract premium prices - and they are - then it flows to us. Once weight and fat depth were all that mattered when you sold cattle; now a grower will be rewarded for understanding how to produce best quality beef," he says. "That's got to be good for everybody."

The popularity of the natural Tasmanian beef with more than 40 of Australia's finest restaurants suggests that the dining experience is every bit as satisfying as the marketing exercise.

Peter Greenham doesn't expect or even desire to service any huge demand overseas though small shipments have already been well received in Japan, Russia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and New York. It may yet prove hard to meet demand domestically with chefs loving the grass-fed flavour of the Tasmanian product and with the help of MSA grading, they're assured of tenderness as well.

With careful selection of genetic stock (Cape Grim Beef is drawn largely from Angus and similar English breeds) and the advantage of fantastic rye-grass and clover pasture, selected cattle are rating in the top 1 or 2 levels possible under the MSA system.

Visiting farms like Western Plains, Highfield and the historic Woolnorth property, it's immediately clear - stunningly, visually so - why the beef grown in the far North West is some of the best in the world. Long-established rolling green pastures, some of the most historic in the State, are edged by timeless, pristine coast. Extraordinary landforms like the Doughboys (Woolnorth), Bull Rock (Western Plains) and The Nut (Highfield) form the backdrop to a day's work eating grass.

The massive turbines of the Cape Grim Windfarm, neighbouring Woolnorth, are evidence enough that the Roaring 40s are forever blowing it all clean. The Baseline weather station, at the top of the hill, merely confirms it, measuring the cleanest air in the world.

The VDL company's beef farm manager, Tim Stokes, pauses a moment by at the edge of the herd to reel off the names of islands visible speckled out to the horizon: Hunter, Trefoil, Little Trefoil, Robbins, Kangaroo, the Doughboys and more.

It's an extraordinary landscape and it's no less inspiring at Western Plains where, as John Bruce reveals, Bass and Flinders came ashore in 1798. "They saw the potential for grazing here which is why the Van Diemens Land Company chose to establish in this area," he says.

John was very quick to get behind the Greenham marketing idea after realising the potential of Tasmanian beef during a trip to the US in 2002. He received a research scholarship through the Beef Industry Research & Development Trust, administered by the TFGA to study the grass-fed beef industry in the States. "In Australia, 'grass-fed beef' as a description has some negative associations because the term was usually used in reference to beef grown on poor pasture in outback Australia," he says. "Not surprisingly, no one used 'grass-fed' to market our product but in the States 'grass fed' meant quality - and more than that, it meant natural. In the US it was marketed as a health food!"

HW Greenham and Sons are a sixth generation Victorian family business, established as sole-trader butchers in 1861. It is now a multi-million dollar meat exporter with its major operation at Tongala in North East Victoria.
They established a Smithton branch of the business six years ago and now process around 1500 cattle a week, much of which is exported to an up-market Japanese hamburger chain.

Peter Greenham, who followed his father Peter Sr into the business, saw that the best of Tasmanian beef was truly a premium food and that it's potential hadn't been fully exploited. "Marketing is the key of course and the MSA ratings gave us the perfect basis for selling quality. There's no doubting the quality, it's graded amongst the highest in the country," he says. "We have the added advantage of an already strong Tasmanian brand, a reputation for some of the cleanest air and water in the world and we don't use hormone growth promotants or GM foods here either. We started the MSA grading in mid 2007 but the labels and packaging came along in December that year. A year later we have fine restaurants and premium butchers all over the country who are just loving it."


Customers come back to the shop asking for it. I’m proud to be able to sell it.
Jamie Wright, Butcher on Bundook

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