As the only female on the RMAC board of directors, owner of two feedlots in NSW and President of the Australians Lot Feeders Association, Tess Herbert certainly has her hands full. To honor International Women’s Day this month, RMAC CEO Anna Campbell sat down with Tess to cover lotfeeding, emerging trends and female thought-leaders to look out for in 2018.

Tell us about Gundamain and Ladysmith Feedlots…

Gundamain Feedlot on its current site was built in 2001 by my husband Andrew and myself. Ladysmith Feedlot near Wagga was purchased by us in 2010. In total the feedlots have a capacity of 12,500 head of cattle. They are accredited with the National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme, Meat Standards Australia accredited, licensed by the EPA and accredited by Woolworths Quality Assurance. The cattle are fed for both domestic and export markets from 60 to 110 days on feed. Our business also has extra enterprises including fat lambs, wool, hay, breeding Angus cattle, cropping and silage – but grain feeding cattle is our core business. We pride ourselves on being able to deliver consistent quality to our customers and the welfare of the animals in our care.

As a business owner and president of the Australian Lot Feeders Association, what changes or trends do you see emerging in Australian lot feeding industry – both in terms of your product and customers – but also government affairs?

• I can’t see lab grown meat as a genuine threat to our industry. There has been quite a lot of media about this as an emerging competitor – it’s expensive, in many forms still requires meat additives.
• Digital and automation transformation will be substantial in the coming years. ALFA in partnership with MLA is investing significant R&D levy dollars into automation and remote technologies. The sustainability of our industry depends in large part on our ability to embrace change and adapt to technologies that enhance efficiencies.
• The feedlot industry will continue to grow but this will be slow sustainable growth. Feedlots and grain fed beef will become more entrenched in the Australian beef supply chain.
• Our licence to operate will continue to be the focus for many of our customers (and even those who aren’t). Industry needs to be ready – be transparent and be accountable.

What do you see as future drivers for growth, for lot feeding and the Australian red meat industry as a whole?

For the Australian red meat industry as a whole, the major driver for our growth is the strength of our integrity systems and our ability to deliver consistent quality beef – our international competitions continue to operate in a commodity market – we cannot compete with their lower cost of operations – our strength is our ability to capture the market for safe, traceable quality beef. Brand Australia is crucial here – the associations consumers and customers make with the product at point of purchase and at point of consuming are vital to repeat purchase. It is more than just clean and green – it is the promise that our animals are cared for, that our product is safe and nutritious and that we can deliver on our promise of quality and consistency.

Feedlots can help deliver the consistency and quality of supply that our customers are increasingly demanding. The growth of the feedlot industry since I am became President of the organization is amazing – our industry capacity is at an all time high. We currently have capacity of 1.3million head on feed – and new expansions are still being announced. The investment in the industry signals a sound future. Market forces are indicating that the Australian feedlot industry is no longer a drought mitigation tool. We are a genuine part of the supply chain. We are the largest domestic users of feed grain; our product represents a majority percentage of beef on domestic supermarket shelves. Our export tonnages have increased yet again, total grainfed exports for 2017 were the largest calendar year volume on record.

What’s the next big thing for our international grain fed and red meat markets?

While new markets continue to emerge – particularly in the middle East and China, it is crucial that Australia continue to invest in our established export markets – in grain fed beef these are Japan, Korea and our high value market in the EU. We will face increasing pressure from competitors in these markets, particularly from the US and South America. Increased brand awareness – both of brand Australia (or True Aussie) and individual Australian beef brands will be the cornerstone of successful penetration into new markets and increasing established market share.

It’s International Women’s Day this month, as a leader in your field… Why do you think there is a particularly strong presence of women in lot feeding?

Because it is not unusual to see women working in feedlots, it has also become accepted that women will work in management and leadership positions in feedlots. I have met and worked with some extraordinary women in the industry. Women who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty – for example clean water troughs, drive feed trucks, induct hundreds of cattle in a day – and women who operate extremely competently at the management and board level. I love the fact that it is accepted as business as usual that women work in and lead our industry. There should be no barriers to women’s participation in any agricultural industry. I also believe that it will be easier for the coming generation of female leaders – and so it should be. It won’t be unusual – just as it is now that my entire livestock crews in both feedlots are women (except for one man!) – it will be the norm that there are as many female directors as men on boards – or even more!

Can you share your thoughts in why the red meat industry is a great industry to work in, as a woman and do you know of any inspirational, female thought-leaders we should be looking out for in 2018?

Because ours is a family business, I didn’t initially choose to work in the industry. But there are lots of women who did choose this – and I applaud them for it – the industry is much richer for their contributions. And now there is nowhere else I would rather work. The industry is buzzing right now – capacity continues to grow and our industry systems, which are being consistently strengthened over time, will continue to strongly underpin everything we do. I work with inspirational female leaders in the ag industry, and particularly in the beef industry every day – the female CEOs, the politicians who represent us. They are interested, engaged, thoughtful and capable. To look out for in the coming years – there are many currently involved who I hope remain involved, closer to home – there will be my daughters! The world is their oyster.