Did you know that approximately 75% of all of the beef we produce in Australia, in some way will be destined for an export market? One of our key export destinations is Japan, and annually they take between 20% and 30% of our export product annually, so our relationship with this market is vital. Back in early June, I was lucky enough to be a part of a producer delegate from Australia, hosted by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA); we spent a week travelling from one end of Japan to the other meeting with farmers and industry groups and officials broaden our knowledge of their industry and to build on the relationship between the 2 countries.

The key objective of the Producer to Producer (P2P), program is for us to enhance our knowledge and understanding of the Japanese cattle industry, and in return for the Japanese beef farmers to enhance their knowledge of our Australian industry. Last year there was a delegate of Japanese farmers who travelled to various beef operations around Australia, which was the beginning of this relationship building program.

So you ask ‘what was it like in Japan??’ 

and my first answer would be ‘Very different from here and with a very different beef industry’! However as the week progressed and my knowledge grew, I can now actually expand on this and talk also about many of our similarities and the common ground which we share.

If you look at a map and the size of Japan, and then take into account their population of 127 million people, already we know that there are not the extent of rolling hills and wide open spaces which we operate in here. The Japanese beef industry is predominantly Wagyu cattle, all housed in sheds and fed for long periods of time up to 36months of age. Wow, you say – how can they afford to keep one beast on feed for 36 months, especially given that a high proportion of the feed ration is imported feed grains and hays from the USA, Canada and Australia! Well, if you haven’t eaten Wagyu, I suggest you try it to find out why, but bear in mind that the domestic Japanese Wagyu product is even more finished with more marbling than the Wagyu product you would find in Australia.

Here are a few photos of the Japanese Wagyu beef and Aussie beef in a supermarket in Tokyo.

Although the language barrier between us during the trip was challenging, it was interesting as conversations opened (which didn’t take long with our fantastic interpreter Miho from MLA), that the Japanese beef farmer, perceived Australia and our exports to Japan as threatening to their industry and their Wagyu production. Through this program and the conversations which we were able to have quiet the reverse was established. In actual fact we are producing very different products (as you can see above) for very different parts of the market. The high quality (very highly marbled) Wagyu product produced by Japanese beef farmers, mainly goes to the restaurant and high end market, where the premiums that it needs to reap to remain sustainable can be gained, and Aussie beef capture’s the day to day market for beef in Japan, for the fast food and home consumers.

 Here are a few facts –

  • on average, Australian’s will each consume about 33kg of beef per year;
  •  Japanese will consume about 6kg of beef per year.

One of the key objectives which MLA continues to work on is increasing this market share and the overall consumption of beef in the country. We learnt of some fantastic programs which are looking at promoting the great health benefits of beef in the diet, while also looking at education in cooking methods; both very similar challenges we have and are working on in Australia.

 What a great experience and opportunity to be apart of this important program. Even more evident to me now, I think it is vital that we build and strengthen our relationship with Japan, we continue to have this open dialogue, and together we understand each other’s challenges. We hope also that the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations continue to develop for us, and together we can increase beef consumption in Japan.