The Wagyu industry is increasingly becoming more prominent and recognised as a premium beef breed due in part to the early pioneers of the industry taking risks both professionally and financially to make it succeed in local and international markets.
It is no surprise then, that the Australian Wagyu Association has bestowed the Hall of Fame 2018 award to Lachie Hart, whose family was one of the early adopters of the breed and recognised its potential for the Australian red meat industry.
Lachie’s father and mentor, Robin Hart, himself no stranger to accolades in the meat industry, first recognised that Wagyu had a lot to offer the Australian industry when he first became aware of the breed in Japan in the 1970s. His drive to develop a quality eating meat on Australian soil was driven by the recognition that the Japanese regard food and drink with reverence, and in particular, wagyu, and expect the very highest standards.
From the establishment of Stockyard Meat Packers in the 70s, the development of a feedlot and the acquisition of an abattoir as a joint venture, the Hart family established a well-respected brand of Angus, that is still a mainstay of the business today.
“The Stockyard brands for Angus have developed an excellent reputation, but I always knew, that in order to have that top-level brand of quality eating meat that we saw in Japan, we would need to incorporate wagyu into our suite of products,” said Lachie. “As a consequence, I networked with the pioneers of the industry – Wally Rea, Nick and Vicky Sher and the Handbury family – to start feeding Wagyu on our feedlot to achieve the very best we could.”
From those early beginnings in the mid-1990s, it was 10 years before the Stockyard brand of Wagyu was something that the Hart family were proud to label as Premium Australian beef that met customer expectations of consistency and reliability associated with the Stockyard brand.
“In those early days, we learned a lot about feeding, breeding and genetics. We brought out Japanese nutritionists to help our feedlot managers develop the best feed formulas possible, translating as we went. Our work in those days to translate the manuals and the techniques has certainly helped to grow the industry into what it is today.”
Heeding the murmurs of Japanese discontent about the use of the word ‘wagyu’ for beef produced outside of Japan, Lachie made the decision to not label his product specifically as wagyu, instead choosing to establish the brand as ‘Premium Australian Beef’.
“By establishing a well-recognised brand, our customers understand that Premium Australian Beef is essentially wagyu and that the marbling score will always be a minimum of 4 for our Red Label, right up to the Kiwami which is MS 9. Anything below MS 4, is downgraded to other brands.”
When Lachie received the call from the Association regarding his award, he was both humbled and surprised to be joining the ranks of some very elite Wagyu industry personalities. Since the WagyuEdge Conference in Mackay and Beef2018 the following week, Lachie has received many emails, phone calls and messages of congratulations from various sectors of the beef industry.
“The industry as a whole clearly sees Wagyu as an important part of the beef landscape and the award has highlighted just how much the industry has grown in stature and respect in the industry.”
For Lachie, he sees this recognition of the breed and it’s eating quality as an opportunity for further growth in developing Wagyu through the use of genetics, data and nutrition.
Moving forward he feels that the industry needs to be mindful of issues around branding of Wagyu to maintain product integrity and truth in labelling. On a broader level, issues such as animal welfare need to be addressed to ensure that Australia’s reputation for the high level of care are upheld and improved upon so that any owner of a supply chain entity can be proud of their efforts and have nothing to fear.
Reflecting on Lachie’s nomination to the AWA Hall of Fame, CEO Matt McDonagh says that the award recognises individuals that have made an outstanding contribution to the Australian Wagyu industry through their actions and that the AWA Hall of Fame is a key platform to acknowledge members whose personal contributions have benefited the whole of the Wagyu industry.
“Lachie’s efforts in developing international market access in the early days of the Australian Wagyu industry have forged a path that others have been able to follow. We now have established a unique vertically integrated industry with diversified market access and a greater understanding of what is needed to achieve high-quality product to meet customer expectations of Wagyu,” said Matt.
“This award doesn’t come without having a strong and supportive team, whether it is family or staff,” said Lachie. “Without the support of our team, the vision of my father, in particular, could not have achieved the level it has today. It is more an award for them than it is for me.”