Continued success for Australian Wagyu Sector

From 220 individuals to 400,000

Continued success for the Australian Wagyu Sector

Australia is the largest exporter of Wagyu beef in the world. Estimated boxed production value for 2023 was AUD $2.0 billion, with around 80% of this exported to more than 40 different countries.

Despite cattle industry market volatility, year-on-year gains in genetic improvement for core production and profitability traits alongside consistent increases in seedstock and commercial (F1 through to Purebred) cattle numbers has been a feature of the Wagyu Sector.

From 220 individuals to 400,000

Starting from the original export of Wagyu genetics from Japan in the 1990s, a global luxury beef industry has emerged from Australia that provides the highest quality eating experience for the luxury food sector.

Importation protocols to get Wagyu cattle and genetics from Japan back then were not straightforward, with significant quarantine periods in other countries required prior to importation into Australia. Other nations also sought to export Wagyu cattle and genetics during this period, making the available Wagyu gene pool a globally shared resource.

All in all, the genetics of around 220 individual Wagyu cattle were exported from Japan, predominantly to Australia and the USA. The Australian Wagyu Sector has led the development of highly controlled supply chains and the reputation of Aussie Wagyu brands through optimising product quality and consistency to the highest standards.

It has been the growth in demand for Aussie Wagyu Brands within global markets that has driven the growth of the Wagyu seedstock and commercial sectors. Fast forward 30 years, and the Australian Wagyu Association (AWA) now has a genomics database for Wagyu cattle of more than 400,000 individuals.

Despite the spectacular growth in herd numbers, the global Wagyu gene pool is a narrow and shared resource across all countries able to export and import Wagyu genetics. The industry can examine the genomic differences between animals and populations of animals using modern genomic technologies to assist breeders in identifying genetic diversity within the Wagyu population worldwide and using this within their breeding programs.

Driving innovation for commercial breeders – Wagyu Feeder Check

Rapid genetic improvement in the Wagyu seedstock sector has fuelled improvement in the consistency and quality of the F1 Wagyu market.

The Wagyu Feeder Check is a commercially available DNA tool developed by AWA, Neogen and CSIRO. It assists F1 producers by providing data on the genetic merit of Wagyu content animals for key traits, including Carcase Weight, Average Daily Gain, Marble Score, Eye Muscle Area and Rump Fat. Genetic merit scores (Molecular Breeding Values; MBVs) are provided between 1 and 10 (10 being the highest) for each trait and can be obtained at or before feedlot induction to improve animal management.

Wagyu Feeder Check testing also allows sire identification as part of the DNA testing process. This means Wagyu Feeder Check results and carcase data on progeny can be used as part of the bull selection criteria when the next year joining’s are being decided.

Modelling conducted by Australian County Choice on more than 2,000 carcases where Wagyu Feeder Check and carcase data was available demonstrated the ability to predict the potential genetic performance of a sire well in advance of kill data analysis. These sires have the potential to directly influence up to four generations of progeny. With Wagyu Feeder Check, conclusions can be drawn on the future usage of the bull well before kill data is analysed.

Australian Country Choice CEO Anthony Lee said “We see the Wagyu Feeder Check tool as an important improvement in sustainability of our production, by only targeting animals to the ACC Wagyu program that will achieve the high-quality standards for Wagyu beef. ACC is using this information to improve its Wagyu production supply chain, identifying low profitability animals that will not meet the requirements from long-feeding programs.”

Driving genetic progress for the seedstock industry

The 2021-2031 Australian Wagyu Association – Progeny Test Program (AWA-PTP) is leveraging the largest global genetic analysis in the world for Wagyu cattle, testing 260 new and emerging industry sires for high-value Wagyu sector traits. It will also develop new Wagyu-specific traits for reproduction, structure, carcase and eating quality.

The program allows global Wagyu breeders to prove their sires in the AWA’s reference population rapidly. It will also provide a mechanism for leading global genetic diversity to be brought into the Australian Wagyu population.

Year-on-year, genetic gains in core Wagyu production and profit traits like Carcase Weight and Marble Score are accelerating, with the average economic value of the AWA Self Replacing Index increasing by $10 per year over the last five years.

Genetic gain is cumulative and highly valued in Wagyu seedstock and commercial Wagyu production (including F1), with direct and immediate benefits through next-generation Wagyu and crossbred Wagyu cattle in commercial supply chains.

Dr Matt McDonagh, CEO of the Australian Wagyu Association, said the “uptake and use of Wagyu genetic information across the industry has been massive. Using our selection indexes to guide commercial breeding decisions has been a key driver underpinning improved quality and competitiveness of Australian Wagyu product in export markets around the world”.

Technology transformation driving gains

The Wagyu Sector has a strong track record of technology uptake, including its long-term project with Meat Image Japan, which has delivered objective carcase grading data for high-value Wagyu carcases up to the AWA’s digital Marble Score 20. At this level of marbling, 70% of the ribeye surface is fine, delicate marbling.

Recent technology partnerships benefitting the Wagyu Sector include launching a sustainability and carbon benchmarking platform with the team at Australian-based climate data company Ruminati. This exciting new partnership will help Wagyu take the first steps toward baselining Australia’s Wagyu Sector through a platform using the complexity of Australia-wide baseline data and current carbon accounting methodologies.

Further strides into the phenotypic prediction of marbling earlier in life are being enabled by AWA’s new partnership with MEQ, a global red meat technology innovation company headquartered in Australia. Supply chains are implementing accurate live-animal ultrasound measurement of intramuscular fat (marbling) in the feedlot, using the MEQ Live platform, well before slaughter. This data can be used along with MEQ’s objective carcase tools to improve the management and grading of Wagyu carcases, data capture and increased resolution of marbling quality.

Wagyu brands excel

Using gains developed through genetic improvement and technology application in Wagyu, the AWA’s annual Wagyu Branded Beef Competition is Australia’s leading beef quality contest, supporting brand development and global market awareness of Australian Wagyu.

Recognising the ultimate in Wagyu quality and innovative Wagyu brands that produce it. At the same time, the competition pays tribute to the hard work and dedication of all those involved in the Wagyu Sector, inspiring and promoting Wagyu as the World’s Luxury Beef. To sample a digital Marble Score 20 steak, join us in Cairns, for the Wagyu Branded Beef Awards on April 10.

Industry events and promotion to underpin market security for Australian Wagyu Beef

International Wagyu Conference   |  10 -12 April   |   Cairns, QLD

Hosted by the Australian Wagyu Association, the conference, will take place in tropical Cairns from April 10 to 12.  Join the entire industry for an unparalleled Wagyu Sector extravaganza over three days. During the day sessions, listen to captivating speakers from around the globe. At night, celebrate the best of the Wagyu industry over three events with the announcement of the 2024 Grand Champion Wagyu Brand in the Wagyu Branded Beef Competition awards; catch all the action live as the very best genetics in the Wagyu breed go under the hammer during the Elite Wagyu Sale and the not-to-be-missed four-course Wagyu Industry Dinner featuring Wagyu supplied by 2023 Grand Champion Wagyu Brand, Kilcoy Global Foods and 2023 Purebred Wagyu Class Champion, Jacks Creek.


Challenges to a new age for Wagyu
Speakers include:  Tim Ault, Simon Quilty and Dave Harris

Reflecting on Wagyu’s position, this session will focus on the changing trade environment for Australian agricultural products and global trends in protein markets. AACo, the world’s largest Wagyu producer, will share its 200-year story and the position of Wagyu in the future.

Changing face of Australian beef production
Speakers include:   Troy Setter and David Foote

Wagyu has made a name for itself by transforming northern Australia’s cattle industry. Consolidated Pastoral Company, another large Australian cattle producer, will share how and why they introduced Wagyu into their operation. The Australian Wagyu industry has grown, with an estimated production value of $2 billion. Because of this, one of the driving forces behind Cattle Australia will discuss why the Wagyu Sector needs an industry-level representation as a strategic priority.

Worldwide Wagyu
Speakers include:  Dave Dreiling, John Hourigan and Richard Saunders

When Wagyu genetics were exported in the 1990s, a global Wagyu market was created, along with trade in Wagyu genetics and partnerships that now span the world. We will hear from AWA members in key markets worldwide to understand their industry and market dynamics.

Advances in rumen methane management and Wagyu
Speakers include:  Dr Fran Cowley, Prof. Richard Eckard and Bobby Miller

Carbon and methane are a natural part of ruminant grazing systems. We will hear from key policy, science and thought leaders on advances in methane mitigation technologies and how these may relate to Wagyu.

Accelerating the breed -with new technologies
Speakers include:  Lisa Rumsfeld and Danny De Rosa

The Wagyu Sector is at the forefront of technology adoption in all productivity and quality improvement aspects. This session will explore recent advances in artificial breeding technologies and new solutions for improving carcase prediction outcomes.

Developing global demand (long-term focus)
Speakers include:   Gerard Hickey and Fearn Cholerton

Wagyu is a globally exported luxury food product but is subject to market volatility, as seen through the post-COVID boom and cost of living squeeze. Leading global Wagyu brands share their insights and stories on developing and maintaining product demand with a long-term focus.

Market and consumer dynamics

Speakers include:   Doug McNichol, Maeve Webster and Angus Gidley-Baird

As the world’s largest exporter of Wagyu beef, what is the perception of the Australian product in key overseas markets? The AWA has invested
with MLA to understand consumer perceptions in key US Wagyu markets. In this session, we’ll also hear about global beef herd changes and how this impacts the Australian Wagyu market.

Future breed leaders
Speakers include:  Jessie Chiconi, Jack Sher and Reid Smith

Our future industry leaders take centre stage sharing their vision for the Wagyu Sector. Meet the next generation of Wagyu leaders, each having taken a different career path in their Wagyu journey.


Important Notice and Disclaimer

It is very important that you appreciate when viewing the AWA database that the information contained on the AWA database, including but not limited to pedigree, DNA information, Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) and Index values, is based on data supplied by members and/or third parties.

Whilst every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of the information reported through AWA, AWA officers and employees assume no responsibility for its content, use or interpretation. AWA disclaims all liability (including without limitation, liability in negligence) for all expenses, losses, damages and costs you may incur as a result of the use by you of the data on this AWA database and the information supplied by ABRI and AGBU being inaccurate or incomplete in any way for any reason.

Regarding EBVs and Index values, it is very important to appreciate, and you need to be aware that:

  • EBVs are derived using Wagyu Single Step BREEDPLAN technology developed independently by the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit (AGBU), using the information contained within the AWA database.
  • AGBU is a joint venture of NSW Department of Primary Industries and the University of New England, which receives funding for this purpose from Meat and Livestock Australia Limited.
  • AWA relies solely on advice provided by AGBU and ABRI in accepting Wagyu Single Step BREEDPLAN software.
  • EBVs published in Wagyu Single Step BREEDPLAN are estimates of genetic potential of individual animals and may not reflect the raw animal phenotype.
  • EBVs can only be directly compared to other EBVs calculated in the same monthly Wagyu Group BREEDPLAN analysis.

Regarding pedigree and DNA testing results submitted to the AWA, it is very important to appreciate, and you need to be aware that:

  • Pedigree and DNA data submitted and supplied to AWA may have errors in it which cannot be detected without further DNA testing.
  • Technology may have advanced since a particular test was undertaken so that previous inaccuracies which were not detectable are now able to be detected by current testing technology.
  • AWA estimates that less than 1% of the pedigree entries, ownership or breeding details in the AWA Herdbook may have errors or which may be misleading. For this reason, users ought to consider if they need to obtain independent testing of the relevant animal (if possible) to ensure that the data is accurate.

Regarding prefectural content, it is very important to appreciate, and you need to be aware that:

  • Prefectural content is based on the estimation of prefectural origin from Japanese breeding records of 201 foundation sires and 168 foundation dams.  As genotype-based parent verification is not used in Japan, and full Japanese registration certificates are not available for all foundation animals, exact prefectural composition for these sires and dams cannot be validated.
  • The calculation of prefectural content for Australian Herdbook animals relies on the accuracy of pedigree records and DNA samples provided by AWA members.
  • The reporting of prefectural content for animals within the AWA Herdbook relies on the calculation provided by ABRI.

If you consider that you do not understand or appreciate the nature and extent of the data provided on this website or the EBVs of a particular animal, then AWA strongly recommends that you seek independent expert advice.