The question of how the Australian lamb industry will grow its share in the red meat market pie is the focus of a 12-month research project by WA sheep producer and Sheep CRC scientist Kelly Manton-Pearce.
Dr Manton-Pearce will travel the world as a 2012 Nuffield Australia Scholarship winner, investigating the issues influencing the size of the national flock, Australia’s lamb industry’s global position, the effect of high lamb prices and more.
A researcher for the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC) in the area of meat science, Dr Manton-Pearce’s Nuffield scholarship is sponsored by the CBH Group and CSBP Ltd, and will cover the topic The way forward for the Australian Lamb Industry - maintaining our share of the ‘lamb meat pie’.
"I’m really honoured to be chosen amongst 21 other producers from around Australia, and I am very excited by this opportunity to really knuckle down into some of the key questions facing our industry," she said.
Together with her husband Alan, Dr Manton-Pearce runs a Border Leicester and Maternal Composite stud and commercial prime lamb enterprise near Yealering in the Wheat belt of Western Australia. In the past year she also seeded wheat, lupins, canola (including GM) and barley as well as producing export hay.
She said her on-farm experience had influenced her research interest, as had her work with the Sheep CRC.
"My Nuffield project will look at the evolution of our Australian lamb product into the future. I was initially focused on frozen and chilled products out of Australia, but I am now including live shipments also.
"I want to know if lamb will be a niche market product in the future due to low supply, or cultural demand in counties like the Middle East. Where are the opportunities?
"Will the high prices affect demand into the future and the sustainability of the whole supply chain and how should farmers better respond to the demand for high quality, retail ready products," Dr Manton-Pearce said.
She will use the extensive travel programme provided through Nuffield to research these questions and more.
"The first part of my year will be a trip to the Netherlands and UK in February. It will be here that all the other new 2012 Nuffield Scholars from around the world get together for the first time.
"I’m hoping after this trip to spend some time in Denmark with those involved in the Danish Pork Industry. Danish Pork is a premier product with excellent vertical chain integration and hopefully some knowledge here to bring home for the Australian lamb industry.
"I also hope to come home via the Middle East where I will spend time with key export customers of Australian fresh and chilled lamb products. Whilst in the UK I’m aiming to spend some time with the major supermarket Tesco. Transforming wool, meat and the sheep that produce them
"In June and July I head off on a six-week Global Focus Tour with 10 other scholars. We will visit Canberra, Philippines, China, USA (including Washington), Canada, France and Ireland.
"After this six-week period I then plan to spend more time in the UK with lamb producers, and hopefully also in the US with Costco and other key clients of Australian lamb."
Dr Manton-Pearce also hopes to spend some time with the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
"By meeting with key current and future consumers of Australian lamb and the WTO I hope to better understand how the demand for lamb will change as the worldwide demand for more dietary protein increases," she said.
"Demand for lamb is very strong in a number of developing countries that hold the consumption of lamb with strong cultural significance.
"I also want to understand how the impacts of supermarket generic branding of meat and low prices on the lamb industry and farmer profits into the future. What are the future implications of supermarket monopolies in Australia for the lamb industry?
"The third component of my study will investigate how vertical integration of the lamb supply chain, with a strong consumer focus, can enable eating quality assurance programs that will return higher profits for farmers.
"My main hope is that this project will encourage a strong long term view that the lamb industry will provide strong returns into the future and may help farmers to better capitalise on the high prices and demand for lamb."
More information on Dr Manton-Pearce’s research is available at www.nuffield.com.au or follow on twitter @nuffieldaust