Thursday, July 17, 2014

Updates for Pasturefed Cattle Assurance Scheme

Changes have been made to the Pasturefed Cattle Assurance System standards and rules, making it easier for beef producers to participate in the certification program.

Since its launch in April of 2013 more than 200 certified producers have become pasture-fed certified and many more are undertaking on-farm audits to prove claims their beef is pasture or grass raised and also to meet optional additional modules of antibiotic-free and GMO-free.

Teys Australia [ in SE Queensland], which had been the first processor to commit to the program, is now offering a 70 cents a kilogram premium for eligible cattle above the Meat Standards Australia grid price for August delivery - and has just extended its premium to 10c/kg for non-MSA grade cattle.

PCAS coordinator Lisa Cotter said it had been a great first year. Producers who had been early adopters were reaping the benefits of sometimes more than $200 a steer above MSA prices.

The Cattle Council of Australia - which had developed the program - had recently reviewed the standards and rules in line with United States Department of Agriculture updates with which the certification scheme was closely aligned, with experience from the first 12 months of the program.  Given the surge in Australian beef exports to the US this is a great plus, allowing marketing entry to claiming grass fed stature – quite a marketing plus - in the US retail market.

There were three objectives going forward in the program.
1 .   Standards need to evolve over time while still ensuring they still meet the market requirements
2       They need to be practical at the producer level and after the first year, some changes could be made to better meet this need  whilst maintaining the integrity of the program  
3        They must continue to reflect the international standards.

Standards and rules now clearly stated that the use of anthelmintics such as Ivermectin for the control of internal parasites was permissible [that is a big plus and definitely acceptable].  All topical treatments such as pinkeye ointments and back-liners were permissible to also meet the antibiotic-free module.

One of the major changes was in how life time traceability of cattle was achieved and defined.

The NLIS database was no longer the sole method to demonstrate lifetime traceability, taking into account many properties running sophisticated on-farm databases eg Practical Systems Stockbook software.

Producers must continue to show they are meeting their legal requirements of moving cattle on-and-off the NLIS database, but for example if a breeder who never trades cattle but had a ghost mob where a few animals had not been transferred, or where there were a couple of animals had tags fallen out, there can be problems.

Animals which lost their NLIS button could now still be classified as PCAS eligible if producers could prove it complied, through other management systems.

PCAS had no restrictions on producers yard-weaning their calves, with the guidelines only stipulating that animals must not be confined for more than 20 days each year.

Cereal grain at weaning is not permitted and has been an issue for some beef producers, but a lot of producers have been able to supplement by feeding hay, silage and cotton seed or canola meal, or a supplement mineral mix, depending on what is the most applicable for their business, to overcome weaning stress while maintaining certification.

A few producers have committed to the program in the NT, but with the live export market so buoyant, numbers moving to abattoirs have been low.  The program offers some real potential for the NT and indeed the whole northern cattle industry, by capitalising on the consumer demand for grass fed beef, especially if a premium price can be realised for the effort..

Every dollar helps producer viability and this option can add some dollars at sale time for stock going to an abattoir.

As consultants to industry we can assist with producers achieving these Pasturefed Cattle Assurance quality standards.

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