An Enormous Frontier To Expand in to

David Palmer (FM 72)
Graduate of Excellence Award 2001

David Palmer (FM 72)

I joined Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), at its inception in July 1998.
At that time he was General Manager of Industry Affairs and Communication and their job was to encourage levy payers to join the new company as well as position the company appropriately in the eyes of Government, industry and a broad range of stakeholders.

In 2002, I took up the position of Regional Manager in North America which covers the region from Canada to Mexico. The first 18 months was devoted to negotiating the US/Australia Free Trade Agreement as it relates to beef and sheepmeat. The expansion now available in beef quota will result in tonnage more than double our nearest competitor (New Zealand). Admittedly this is over an 18 year period, but we do receive an additional 20,000 tonnes in January 2007. Given that we came in under quota in 2005, by about 60,000 tonnes, we now have considerable room to grow.

Lamb access to the US is now virtually unencumbered. This category has enjoyed unprecedented growth in this exciting market. In the 1990s, virtually no Australian lamb went to America and yet in 2005 the industry broke through 40,000 tonnes for the first time. Double digit growth to this market continues with 2006 breaking new records.

Australia enjoys a very strong and favourable reputation in the United States. Our close geo-political relationship, coupled with our ability to supply a safe, consistent year round beef and lamb product, has made Australia an attractive import proposition.During my time in Washington, we managed a $5 million industry-funded program, which helps deliver about $2 billion in beef and lamb sales to industry. The energy and vitality in the US market both at retail and food service, is a most infectious tonic and I recommend that anyone who has the opportunity to spend time in America soaking up this atmosphere strongly encouraged to do so.

Before the creation of MLA, I worked for one of the predecessor organisations, the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation (AMLC). During that time we established a national vendor declaration for cattle, sheep and goats. The creation of Safemeat occurred during this period, along with an Industry/Government capability to manage issues that had national and international ramifications.

Prior to AMLC, I spent 6 years in Canberra as Executive Director of Cattle Council of Australia. We were broadly responsible for the Agri-political federal lobby on behalf of the Australian beef industry. This was an exciting time as we grappled with the contentious issue of foreign ownership in the Australian meat industry. In addition, the industry, through the early 90s faced a number of crises relating to chemical residues that threatened market closure. It was during this time that it became clear to me and others that a real need existed for a major industry investment in food safety, product integrity and meeting the absolute demands of the 110+ countries that we export to around the world.

Consequently today the industry has invested tens of millions of dollars over the last two decades in the area of product description, eating quality, traceability, on-plant and on-farm food safety and product integrity.

AUSMEAT product description and Meat Standards Australia (MSA) eating quality grading system are at the leading edge of beef and sheepmeat initiatives. The creation of vendor declarations and now the industry wide Livestock Production Assurance (LPA), coupled to audited on-farm and feedlot quality assurance programs, gives us a level of integrity enjoyed by few other countries.

The National Livestock Identification System (NLIS), is intended to deliver Australia a world leading cattle traceability program. Like any new initiative there will be teething problems, but MLA in partnership with State Governments has a mandate to deliver a world-class system and deliver it we will.

Australia now exports nearly $5 billion in beef and beef products a year. On a weekly basis this amounts to approximately $100 million. If NLIS allows Australia to re-enter the export market for beef one week earlier following market closure through disease or some other event, then the investment will be both justified and refunded.

Undoubtedly Australia's largest and most loyal market is the domestic market. Sales of beef and lamb over the last few years have increased in both volume and in value - this is almost an unprecedented phenomenon. The challenge now is for MLA and the industry to hold these gains and continue to grow our base relative to competing proteins.

In addition the export market continues to hold great potential. As economic wellbeing continues to expand across Western and Asian markets the prospects for red meat sales continue to look strong - a clear correlation exists between rising incomes and red meat consumption. Given that 99.6% of the world's population live outside Australia we have an enormous frontier to expand in to.

Apart from proximity to markets, Australia's single limitation is the unpredictable seasons and resultant droughts. Australia's most successful farmers will be those who understand the seasons and can manage their enterprises through the highly variable seasonal conditions.

It is a great honour and privilege to be the Managing Director of Meat & Livestock Australia and I understand that any successes this company can achieve will only be done so in partnership with the industry we serve and the stakeholders we are accountable to. We intend to forge a real sense of partnership with industry and Government and deliver real services and solutions that meet industry needs and aspirations."