Jason Strong appointed as managing director of Meat & Livestock Australia

Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), the research, development and marketing service provider for the Australian red meat and livestock industry, has announced the appointment of Jason Strong as its managing director.

MLA chair Dr Michele Allan said the MLA Board unanimously supported the appointment.

“The MLA Board is extremely confident that Jason will make an outstanding contribution to MLA and will continue to foster the prosperity of our industry on behalf of the red meat producers we serve,” Allan said.

“He returns to MLA with comprehensive red meat and livestock experience, knowledge and connections – from the farm through to the end consumer – in both domestic and international markets.”

Allan said that Strong was a well-recognised and respected senior executive with extensive skills in commercial and industry business management and administration, supply chain development, meat science and grading, genetics and marketing.

“Importantly, Jason has significant on-farm experience meaning he has a unique understanding of what is expected from MLA on behalf of levy payers. He is focused with a passionate commitment for our industry,” Allan said.

“With a proven track record in building strong teams and developing business opportunities in a number of key markets and corporate environments, Jason was the standout candidate for this highly coveted position.”

Strong said was an exciting time to be returning to MLA, with many opportunities for the red meat industry.

“I am looking forward to working with MLA’s Board, staff, red meat producers and the broader industry to make certain we are best positioned to respond to the challenges and opportunities ahead,” Strong said.

“I want to ensure MLA’s current programs and projects continue to deliver value, but also identify and implement what is required for the future success of the red meat industry.”

Strong will commence in the role on Monday 1 April 2019. Most recently, Strong was CEO of Smithfield Cattle Company, a leading family owned feedlot and cattle supply business. Prior to this he was Managing Director with AA Co.

Strong has also represented industry as MLA’s regional manager in Europe and Russia. He was also responsible for the expansion of the Pfizer (now Zoetis) DNA technology business into new key international markets.

He is also the current Chair of the EU and UK Red Meat Market Access Taskforce and is the past Chair of the Australian Beef Industry Foundation. He also spent 17 years managing and coaching the Australian Inter Collegiate Meat Judging Team.

Strong said that his previous experience with MLA, both within the organisation and as an external partner, meant that he understood the workings and responsibilities of MLA’s industry research and marketing service.

“Since MLA’s formation 21 years ago, our industry organisations have evolved in response to our growing and dynamic industry. However, the responsibility for MLA to deliver on the current and planned programs and projects remains,” he said.

“While many red meat producers and others in the value chain are currently facing tough conditions, MLA will continue to do everything it can to support and enhance the success and global competitiveness of Australia’s red meat industry.”

Electronic NVD system delivers red meat supply chain benefits

Producers now have a cutting-edge electronic platform for the transfer of national livestock declarations at their finger-tips.

Launched this week by the Integrity Systems Company (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Meat & Livestock Australia), the electronic National Vendor Declaration (eNVD) will transfer Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) information, as well as animal health declarations, Meat Standards Australia (MSA) declarations and National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme (NFAS) delivery documentation.

The eNVD system is a significant step forward for the red meat and livestock industry and underpins Australian red meat’s enviable reputation worldwide.

Dr Jane Weatherley, Integrity Systems Company Chief Executive Officer, said the introduction of the eNVD is a major development in a broad program to utilise more digital tools and technologies in the red meat industry.

“Australian producers have a strong reputation for delivering quality red meat into more than 100 international markets backed up by food safety, product integrity and traceability. This is enhanced by our world-leading systems including the NVD,” Dr Weatherley said.

“A fully functional eNVD platform will make life simpler for producers. It will reduce time spent completing livestock assurance and health declarations and managing historical NVDs for auditing, reporting and administrative purposes. It will also ensure the latest NVD is being used.”

The eNVD system can be used to submit and retrieve eNVDs for property to property movements, or movements to feedlots, saleyards and abattoirs.

“In choosing to use it, producers will ensure they are providing information that meets the latest market requirements,” Dr Weatherley said.

“It’s not just on-farm where we’ll see the benefits. For feedlots, saleyards and processors, it reduces the likelihood of inaccuracies in information received from producers, and makes the information easier to store and retrieve. Most importantly, it provides greater visibility of the incoming livestock’s details before the stock arrive, enabling more efficient management.

“Overall, it will make the sharing of critical information simpler, quicker and more accurate for the entire supply chain. This supports the promise we’re making to our customers – and means that we can stand by what we sell.”

Since early 2017, producers in specific supply chains have been able to access the Aglive licensed commercial software versions of the eNVD that adheres to the national eNVD Standards endorsed by SAFEMEAT.

Veggie is the most low-carbon diet, right? Well, it depends where you live

It is often claimed that a vegetarian diet is better for the environment, because grazing animals such as cattle and sheep produce a lot of methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

The areas needed for livestock grazing can also be much larger than those used for crops to produce an equivalent amount of food, so more land is cleared for meat than crops, which causes more carbon to be lost from the landscape.

But wait. As is often the case with complex environmental cycles, particularly those altered by human activities, this is only part of the story. While it is true that ruminants emit a lot of methane, and this is currently the greatest slice of the agricultural emissions pie, it is also true that these are not the only emissions associated with human agriculture.

Cropland generally uses more inorganic fertiliser than pasture, which means that the more plants you eat, the more of your greenhouse footprint comes from nitrous oxide – another potent greenhouse gas linked to use of industrially produced fertiliser.

Unfortunately, this means that sticking to a climate-friendly diet isn’t always just a matter of giving up steak and lamb chops. You also have to consider the soil types and farming practices in the places where your food is produced. And the bad news for Europeans is that eating meat is much harder to justify than it is in Australia, for instance, where livestock tends to be less intensively farmed.

Emissions and soils

Nitrous oxide emissions come from the turnover of nitrogen compounds in the soil, which in turn come from both organic matter (manure, soil organic matter) and synthetic fertilisers (primarily inorganic nitrogen).

This means that the biggest greenhouse impact would come from eating livestock animals that are disconnected from the soil, kept in barns and fed on crops (for instance, beef cattle fed on corn meal) rather than extensively grazing on pastures. This represents a climate double whammy because the crops lead to nitrous oxide emissions and the animals then produce methane.

The other greenhouse gas to consider is, unsurprisingly, carbon dioxide. Healthy soils contain lots of organic matter, which helps to reduce erosion, boosts water storage capacity (and therefore drought resilience), and acts as a storehouse for nutrients (thereby reducing the need for fertiliser).

When land is cleared for agriculture, the amount of soil organic matter can decline dramatically. And because carbon makes up around 50-55% of soil organic matter, this land clearing not only depletes soil health but releases greenhouse gas, as the soil organic carbon is converted to carbon dioxide and released.

Soil organic matter can be restored by plants, which take up atmospheric carbon dioxide as they grow. When they die, their biomass is then (partially) incorporated into the soil and converted into soil organic matter.

So does farming help soils?

The soil organic carbon pool is the largest land-based carbon store and the most dynamic globally of the non-living carbon pools. There is at least twice as much carbon stored in the world’s soils as there is in the atmosphere.

So planting crops to store more carbon sounds like an attractive idea. Unfortunately, however, cultivated soils contain up to 70% less soil organic matter than natural soils, so croplands are actually a net greenhouse emitter.

Conversely, soils used for grazing animals have much higher soil organic matter content than in cropped systems, and roughly the same amount as natural soils. This is probably because many grazed systems are permanent pastures, where plants constantly grow and add to the soil carbon pool (even after the animals have eaten their fill).

But this distinction is not captured by official figures from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which only reports non-CO₂ emissions from agriculture, and assumes the CO₂ emissions from agriculture to be net zero (CO₂ emissions due to soil carbon loss appear in the “Forestry and other land use” category).

This means that the greenhouse emissions due to crops, and carbon storage in pasture lands, may both be underestimated. This issue is highlighted by our research, which shows that carbon losses from cropped soil extend far deeper than previously believed.

Previous estimates assumed that only the topsoil (generally the top 30 cm) was affected, but we have shown that, in Australia at least, this is not the case – the lower carbon content of cropped soil is detectable all the way down the soil profile. We also found that, at these deeper depths, natural and grazing soils contained very similar amounts of carbon.

As if that were not all complicated enough, there is yet another factor: when livestock manure is returned to the soil, this also boosts soil carbon, making for healthier soils and partially offsetting the animals’ greenhouse emissions. Declining use of animal manure on European crops has beenassociated with a reduction in soil carbon storage.

Food for thought

So what does this all mean? Well, 90% of our energy intake comes directly from the soil, so agricultural practices obviously have a big effect on soil health. If you care about conserving soils as well as minimising your greenhouse emissions, it’s not as simple as just going vegetarian.

Grazing animals can be good for soils, even though their methane emissions are bad for the atmosphere. Working out where the balance sits is a fiendishly tricky question. This is because agricultural emissions are related to individual site factors (such as climate or soil type) as well as agricultural practices (such as fertiliser regime or grazing intensity).

Perhaps the best approach is try to source your food from local suppliers (to reduce your food miles) who do not use intensive agricultural practices (such as frequent tillage or indoor mass-rearing of animals).

If you eat meat, choose free-range, grass-fed animals instead of those fed in barns using food from crops. Get to know how your food is produced, and choose the most sustainable options, whether meaty or not. Small choices can help to save our soils.

Eleanor Hobley, Postdoctoral Fellow, Technical University of Munich and Martin Wiesmeier, Researcher, Technical University of Munich

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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