CONSUMERS could be willing to pay more than $100 a kilogram for highly-marbled lamb cutlets, according to leading NSW seedstock breeder Tom Bull.
At the Meat Standards Australia producer forum in Naracoorte this week, he said there was significant opportunity for lamb to replicate the "billion dollar branded business" of Wagyu beef, with not one lamb brand underpinned by a 'five-star' eating experience.
He said in the past couple of decades, Australia had increased its carcase value through higher lean meat yield, including bigger loin racks, but there was a negative genetic correlation between LMY and intramuscular fat.
We are a premium product, we are priced four times chicken, so can we sustain our position four times chicken with a product that doesn't eat well?
The national average IMF had dropped to 4.2 per cent, close to where consumers could find lamb not as desirable.
"We are a premium product, we are priced four times chicken, so can we sustain our position four times chicken with a product that doesn't eat well?" he said.
He said it was lucky Australia did not follow New Zealand's use of VIASCAN with their lambs now less than 2pc IMF. At the same time he said their per capita consumption had dropped considerably.
In 2012 Mr Bull set up a company to understand the link between genetics and consumer satisfaction and the economics of eating quality.
He says their work has reinforced that of Meat&Livestock Australia and they have been able to identify sires from their terminal breeding programs with a range of MSA indexes from 58 to 87. The one common point was as marbling went up, so did eating quality.
Importantly, he said their consumer studies had shown a willingness to pay 2.8 times for lamb with higher eating quality.
"If we can get 12pc (IMF) cutlets, the opportunity is there at $120/kg," he said.
"If a lamb has 2kg of rack on rack alone, we are changing it by $60/kg, so we are increasing the carcase value of a lamb by more than $120."
This year using high terminal sire genetics over high marbling maternal genetics from clients, he has found it was possible to produce lamb carcases with this level of marbling from 150 days on feed.
"The issue is getting the balance between marbling and meat yield," he said.
"A lot of high marbling sheep are also high fat sheep, so while we get some big marble scores, we don't want to be trimming too much."
But Mr Bull said the good news was genomics could be used to pinpoint the right animals
"We are in a time when we have the tools,- the genomic tools, the progeny test tools, incorporating consumer data- I think the next two decades are quite exciting," he said.
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