At the forefront of genomics technology with the massive production and marketing advances it promises and in the box seat to capitalise on a lucrative and growing global demand for premium beef, the Wagyu breed in Australia is set for unprecedented expansion.
The forecast continuation of the breed’s explosive past five years of growth means Wagyu has the “ability to turn the key in the Australian beef industry to start really adding value and profitably.”
Those were the words of retiring Australian Wagyu Association chief executive officer Graham Truscott at the annual conference in Albury this week as he summed up the unique position the breed currently finds itself in.
Wagyu breeding has gone from being ‘secret men’s business’ with no sharing of knowledge and no faith in genetic analysis to leading edge Australian cattle industry business blazing new trails in a number of beef domains, according to Mr Truscott.
Since 2012, Wagyu herd book registrations have tripled and membership of the breed association has doubled.
In April 2015, there were 7720 Wagyu animals with estimated breeding values (EBVs). Last month, it was more than 80,000.
By 2020, the forecast is for 821,000 Wagyu joinings, which will be 5.7per cent of the female beef herd, and a 276,000 head turn-off.
The breed’s ten-year vision includes comprising 5pc of the genetic base of the Australian national beef herd.
Much of its growth to date has come on the back of a genetic analysis program which ventured into territory other beef breeds have not gone – and the future expansion will likewise rest heavily on the fact Wagyu breeders are continuing down that path, according to those at its helm.
“When we set about looking at the genetic analysis side, we pulled information out of the whole of supply chain, not just the seedstock sector, and that was quite different to what other breeds were doing,” Mr Truscott said.
“We were able to produce credible EBVs on carcase weight, eye muscle area, marble score, marbling fineness and we produced a credible fullblood terminal index (FTI) on carcase weight and marble score to effectively rank sires for terminal fullblood and crossbred breeding – that was a first.”
A sire progeny test program to proof promising young sires and the development of an EBV for feed efficiency are other innovations fueling the growth of the breed.
“Many Australian-bred bulls are now available with an FTI greater than the original sire,” Mr Truscott said.
“The classic example is Itoshiganami, who is rated with an FTI of $348 and his son Mayura Itoshignami Jnr at $558 – he sold for $3050 a straw at the live auction at last year’s AWA conference.
“And still, we are looking to the future, exploring new areas like eating quality and human health,” Mr Truscott said.
The high commercial growth of 30pc per annum and a market demand that has grown alongside has opened the Wagyu breeding to many new entrants.
At the 2017 conference workshop sections, a third of the delegates put their hand up as being new.
New CEO Dr Matt McDonagh believes the growth expected in the next decade will see Wagyu breeding ‘deliver leadership to the Australian beef industry.’
Within five years Australian Wagyu would be the definitive source of Wagyu information outside of Japan, he said.
Much of the breed’s success came down to fact traits measured were the traits that pay the whole supply chain, he said.
Dr McDonagh explained that using the latest genomic estimates, breeders would be able to go from the five or six years in now takes to get good carcase data to underpin EBVs to estimates within the first five to six weeks of birth.
“What these genomic tests will enable is a breeder to pick out the top 10 pc of bulls at birth and segregate out the bottom animals,” he said.
“We will be able to crank up the rate of genetic gain by selecting elites very early on.
“Then, if you have confidence in those animals early on – harvest genetics very early on and reduce generational intervals.”