ON-FARM processing could be a game-changer for those looking to brand their meat, according to Clare Valley foodie Michele Lally.
Early this year she and husband Phil put their award-winning Savannah Farm brand on hold for a new venture, Australian Micro Processors.
Their aim is to deliver customised, multi-species, micro abattoirs to those looking to market their beef, lamb, pork, chicken or other meats.
The units are modelled on one the Lallys built on their Mid North farm in 2016.
A mid-sized unit is capable of processing about 35 lambs a day and the larger units up 100 cattle a week.
They can be built in three to five months.
“Throughput is determined by the chiller space you have and the beauty is the unit can process beef one day and pigs the next day,” she said.
Ms Lally says the rationalisation of meat processing has made it increasingly difficult for small-scale producers to get full service kill space.
Several SA brands have been forced to process their animals interstate.
“About 80 per cent of what is processed here in SA is by two major processors,” she said.
“In the United States in the 1970s the top five processors controlled 25 per cent of the market but today the top four control more than 75pc – they are seeing these micro abattoirs popping up and Australia usually follows the United Kingdom and US in ag and food trends.”
Many consumers want to follow their food from the paddock to the plate so Ms Lally says on-farm processing offers traceability.
“It is the ultimate in stress-free, ethical and traceable meat production and, from a sustainability point of view, you can use all the waste on your property,” she said.
Ms Lally believes the economics stack up as well, especially with high returns for beef and lamb in the current consumer market.
A producer or producer group should be able to pay for the units (around $300,000 including yards and design) in less than five years with a throughput of 35 (or equivalent) lambs a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year. Throughput can be expanded and contracted without the costs of large abattoirs.
The Lallys also see the opportunity for remote area communities and government agencies to use the units to process feral pests, such as goats, camels and brumbies – ensuring humane slaughter and the ability to use the meat, rather than slaughtering and leaving the animals in situ.
They could also be a godsend for remote communities looking for affordable, locally-produced food.
“Cuba only has two days food security similar to places in the APY Lands, so these types of units could go into places where they want to reclaim their own food processing and reduce the costs of shipping protein in that’s travelled hundreds of food miles.”
Ms Lally acknowledges finding qualified staff for the units is a challenge but there are ways around this with training and initiatives working with remote communities.
A producer or producer group should be able to pay for the units (about $300,000 including yards and design) in less than five years with a throughput of 35 (or equivalent) lambs a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year.
The Lallys also see the opportunity for remote communities and government agencies to use the units to process feral pests, such as goats, camels and brumbies – ensuring humane slaughter and the ability to use the meat.
They could also help communities looking for affordable, locally-produced food.
“Cuba only has two days’ food security, similar to places in the APY Lands, so these types of units could go into places where they want to reclaim their own processing and reduce the costs of shipping protein in that has travelling hundreds of food miles,” she said.
Australian Micro Processors already has five prospective customers.
“We realise not everyone wants to brand their own meat but we have had many people contact us to say they would love to, but their nearest abattoir is five hours away,” she said.
“It is a sound, long-term investment, especially with sheep and beef returns high and it opens up opportunities for collaboration and co-operatives,” Ms Lally said.
New direction for couple behind Savannah Farm
For more than a decade Clare Valley farmers Michele and Phil Lally built a strong following with their Savannah Lamb brand, sought-after by some of Adelaide’s top restaurants and discerning households.
The Lallys also produced beef, chicken and heritage pork, expanding the brand to Savannah Farm. But in March they took a step back, dispersing their sheep flock and leasing the farm.
“We were at a point where we needed 10 staff to keep up with demand and were on the road four days a week,” she said.
“At one point, we had 45 lambs a week going to seven different locations and viable refrigerated freight was difficult to find and extremely costly, not to mention reliable cutting and packing.”
For much of the time, Savannah Farm meat was processed an hour away from their farm, but with the assistance of a $100,000 PIRSA Advanced Food Manufacturing Grant they built their own licensed on-farm processing unit, making considerable freight savings.
This success has inspired them to help others do the same, looking to manufacture the units and providing advice on how to gain accreditation and build the facilities.