Global trade in livestock semen and embryos is ballooning, but Australia’s celebrated livestock genetics remain relatively unknown to the rest of the world.
Huge opportunities to build on our success as an exporter of breeding cattle and sheep, and slaughter stock, are failing to launch.
Australian exports of beef and dairy semen are worth a puny $1.5 million a year.
By comparison Canada earns close to $100m from bovine semen exports annually, yet has a cattle herd just half the size of Australia’s.
Potential 10-fold export rise
The Australian Registered Cattle Breeders Association (ARCBA) believes the export value of beef and sheep semen and embryos could jump almost 10-fold by 2023 if a united approach to marketing and smoothing the path for exports was initiated now.
Yet despite new markets such as China, Eastern Europe and Latin America emerging as big volume buyers, the breeder body fears Australia currently risks “market failure” in the genetic export game.
Genetics sector players blame our inability to gain traction in what is now a mainstream global business on high government charges, dumb export protocols with importing countries and fragmented interest from Australian breeders, breed societies and government, among other factors.
We could realistically increase beef and sheep genetic material exports to around $10m annually within five years
“However we could realistically increase beef and sheep genetic material exports to around $10m annually within five years, if we started the journey by establishing a national secretariat to assist and promote sales,” said ARCBA president, Arthur Rickards.
Canberra can help
Mr Rickards will be in Canberra later this month lobbying the case for government to back a collaborative export effort by the livestock sector.
ARCBA proposes a jointly funded secretariat to become a primary contact for overseas parties interested in buying Australian genetics and distribute expressions of interest to secretariat supporters.
It would also assess market opportunities in target markets and organise an Australian promotion presence at overseas trade shows.
Markets likely to offer the greatest potential include the US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay, South Africa, China and South East Asia.
Secretariat support to the federal government would also be important in achieving better export protocol arrangements with target markets.
Fix trade protocols
Protocols include the qualification period during which donor stock are held in quarantine and tests for disease prior to semen and embryos leaving the country, and afterwards.
Depending on the export destination, the process can take four or five months.
Importer’s protocols can also be ambiguous and have limited scientific relevance to Australian conditions.
ARCBA has proposed a low-cost secretariat with a $45,000 a year operating budget, after an initial $100,000 set up cost.
Genetics secretariat plan
The set up would involve market research, establishing a website and running an export industry conference to set industry goals.
Although previous requests for support from Canberra have fallen flat, Mr Rickards is pushing the case for the government to cover the set up expenses.
Ongoing secretariat costs would be paid by a membership of artificial breeding service companies, individual livestock breeders, reproductive veterinary specialists, embryologists and state government agencies.
“The federal government has shown some interest in what we’d like to achieve, but its sat on its hands when it comes to any real support, despite funds being available for this sort of export initiative,” Mr Rickards said.
“In Canada the Agriculture Minister, Lawrence MacAulay, has just announced a $3m payment over three years to support market development for livestock genetic exports.
“That’s much, much more money than we’ve sought, but systematic promotion of our genetic material is exactly what we need to do.”
Who’s promoting Australia?
Brisbane-based cattle consultant, Don Nicol, noted Australia would probably not have any breeder or genetics supplier attending major industry events in Argentina, Brazil or Uruguay this year, yet these countries now imported “a staggering amount of genetics, particularly from the US”.
“There’s no reason why our considerable achievements in grass-based beef breeding won’t be popular in those markets if we collaborated strategically to go after those sales,” he said.
While more than half the world’s beef production was in tropical regions, and represented good market potential for Australia, our strong Wagyu genetics were another likely growth area, if the right export and marketing strategies were in place.
We buy in about 15 times more dairy and beef semen than we export and nearly three times as many embryos
Although Australia exported 40,000 beef breeders each year our reputation in the global genetics trade was as an importer.
“We buy in about 15 times more dairy and beef semen than we export and nearly three times as many embryos,” he said.
Highlighting the missed opportunities, he noted Australia now shipped breeding heifers to Kazakhstan and Russia, yet those same breeders found it easier to buy North American semen and embyos.
Our cost structure works out about three times as much as you’d pay to send semen overseas from Canada
Unfriendly export cost structures
Southern NSW beef industry leader and Angus stud principal, Lucinda Corrigan, said government charges associated with export processes were among the more obvious disincentives to exports.
“Our cost structure works out about three times as much as you’d pay to send semen overseas from Canada,” she said.
“Our protocol arrangements with many countries haven’t been given much thought either – they often just don’t make sense given our good record on endemic disease.
“Most people simply find it easier to work through a semen company if they’re considering exporting, but I don’t think there’s much money in that for breeders.”
The Corrigan family’s Rennylea Angus stud has exported semen for a decade, primarily to New Zealand and Argentina.
Exports generate up to $200,000 a year in sales.
“But you have to keep doing the leg work and talking with people about what they want,” Mrs Corrigan said.
She sees big potential in South America – a big volume, low cost market where “they run a very serious grassfed industry which shares a lot of the issues we have”.
“The great thing about our beef industry is we’re very commercially focused, we’ve done a lot of work on carcase quality in the past 20 years and we’ve got a lot to offer if can get our genetics noticed overseas.”