A GLENCOE sheep breeder is behind a push to open up lamb markets in Japan for Australian sheep producers.
Dale and Ruth Price, who run the Majardah Poll Dorset and White Suffolk studs, have met with a potential cooperative group in Ichinomiya, a suburb in Tokyo, to discuss introducing Australian lamb to young Japanese consumers.
"There is no long-term association with sheep meat in Japan like we have in Australia," Mr Price said.
"This is a new market where we have locals wanting to develop it and there is potential for Australia."
The Prices were on a farming tour in Japan earlier this year and met a number of producers, from Wagyu farms to orchards.
Mr Price was asked to speak with representatives of the City of Ichinomiya Project 138 group about the history and quality of Australian lamb.
"I went there expecting to speak to farmers and we were met with civic leaders, bankers and industrialists," he said.
Mr Price said the group he met was looking for ways to revitalise their region by reviving their textile industry and developing processing systems to introduce lamb to Japanese consumers.
He said many young Japanese people worked long hours, followed by long commutes, so the concept of easy meals was appealing.
The delegates he met with were hoping to cater to the market for these meals by using sheepmeat, and with very few sheep numbers in Japan, Mr Price said there were great opportunities for Australian producers.
"There is a natural synergy between Australian lamb producers and these processors who are looking to revitalise their area," he said.
"The Japanese consumers are typically very particular about their food and Australia is well-placed to meet that.
"We have high-quality lamb while Ichinomiya has manufacturing expertise, finance and a growing market."
Since returning from Japan, Mr Price has spoken with representatives of Meat Livestock Australia and has stayed in contact with Project 138 chairman Takau Kimura to ensure progress on the plan.
"I just think it's such a wonderful opportunity, driven by Japanese businesspeople in their home market," he said.
"It is much easier when there is a potential cooperative like this than having to come in and develop interest.
"If we work with them, then Australian lamb producers are winners and Japanese consumers can have a good eating experience."
MLA's senior manager market specialist-Japan, Miho Kondo, said Australian lamb and sheepmeat already had a presence in Japan, but they were always on the lookout for new opportunities.
"There are 127 million people with good income so we will keep looking for areas we can further improve our market there," she said.
Ms Kondo said the market, while not big, was high-value.
She said domestic sheepmeat production in Japan was virtually non-existent, leaving Australia with the market share, and some competition from New Zealand.
"We have been sending lamb to Japan for many years and for the past few years export was pretty steady," she said.
"This year, export to Japan is up 30 per cent on this time last year."