YOUNG PRODUCER: Heatherlea Red Beef's John Kuhl was at the MLA Global Market Forum to find out about emerging markets.
YOUNG PRODUCER: Heatherlea Red Beef's John Kuhl was at the MLA Global Market Forum to find out about emerging markets. Andrea Davy

Family business moved ahead with new ideas

THE Meat and Livestock Australia Global Market Forum attracted the biggest beef players in the industry, but among the crowd was a young Queensland producer who is primed to make his mark.

John Kuhl, from Heatherlea Red Beef in the Condamine region, was at the conference with an aim to learn about the emerging markets.

Alongside his mum, Barbara, the family has started a sprout-fed beef operation.

John had just graduated from university as a geologist when his father Timothy passed away and he made the decision to return to the land.

He inherited his parents' passion for producing a quality beef product, but has brought a new wave of youthful thinking and innovation to the business.

"I saw so much promise,” he said.

"We were left a little bit of money at the time, which allowed us to invest into the property.”

His parents had worked hard on implementing strategies that were aimed to enhance their pastures, limit overgrazing and were adamant on being hormone-free and grass-fed.

With solid herd foundations using hereford and angus genetics, John feels the sprout-fed operation is the rightful next step.

The end goal is to produce a quality meat that will secure high-end niche markets and sell direct to restaurants in cities.

"We have been trying to go against the trend, really,” he said.

"We have found the last couple of years pretty tough with traditional markets, and with drought.

"We are value-adding, opposed to increasing in size.”

As it's still early days for the business, overseas markets are not a priority, but speakers Christine Pitt and Sarah Hyland at the MLA forum were particularly useful to John.

Ms Pitt, who is the chief executive officer of MLA Donor Company, encouraged producers to think ahead.

In her presentation, she asked a simple question that not many people had an answer to: "what's your favourite beef snack?”

After silence, "jerky” was offered from someone in the crowd.

"Every time I ask that question the only answer available for people to give me is jerky,” she said.

"If I asked you, what's your favourite dairy snack? You would have 50, 60 or 100 different things you could choose, whether it be cheese or yoghurt or a new fancy product.

"So our industry is really behind the eight ball...”

Producers' current focus was creating the best product for existing markets, but Ms Pitt said thinking about what was next could be just as important.

"It requires us to think differently about the future,” she said.

"Think about different products, packaging, new integrity systems, new business models and think about the value chains we will need to create something new.”

Ms Hyland, who had a charismatic style of presenting, discussed the global mega trends that would impact consumers.

Millennials, who were now aged from about 21 to 35, had become more conscious about what they purchased, she said.

"They want to know where it has come from and how it was made,” she said.

"They have all kinds of moral and ethical concerns about the stuff they are buying and experiences they are having. Everyone now feels they have a right to know, they want transparency about how food was made, who is dealing with it and where it has come from.”

The origin of food could become more important to Millennials than the nutrition.

For John, hearing this made him feel the environmental and health benefits of their beef operation was in good stead.

"People ask us about (our systems) and the pressure it puts on the environment,” he said.

"That's another thing I learnt at uni, about the environmental impacts of deforestation. Our shed is only 8 by 12 metres and it can put through 200 head in two months, so that's a pretty good effort.”