An Interview with: Christian Mulders, CEO, Australian Lot Feeders’ Association.

The Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA) is the peak national body representing the Australian cattle feedlot industry, with a membership base representing over 80% of Australia’s cattle feedlot capacity.  

ALFA’s continuing mission is to deliver a profitable and sustainable feedlot industry, operating to the highest ethical, environmental, humane and animal welfare standards, and as such play a critical role in almost every priority set out in Red Meat 2030. 

We caught up with CEO, Christian Mulders, to find out what ALFA have been up to since Red Meat 2030 launched and how they plan to support the initiatives long into the future. 

RMAC: What was ALFA’s involvement in the Red Meat 2030 consultation process last year?

CM: As the Peak industry council representing the cattle lot feeding industry, ALFA was actively involved in the Red Meat 2030 planning and consultation. ALFA Councilors, staff and feedlot members all participated in regional workshops facilitated by RMAC which were designed to obtain grass roots input into what our industry aims to achieve over the next 10 years. The workshops enabled the feedlot sector to contribute to the overall strategic direction reflected in Red Meat 2030.

RMAC: What R&D is currently underway to support the Red Meat 2030 vision of doubling the value of red meat sales? 

CM: ALFA works hand-in-glove with MLA in investing grain fed levies into research for the feedlot industry. We have a research program in place that contributes to Red Meat 2030 by ultimately increasing feedlot efficiency and long-term sustainability. 

Uncovering feedlot Automation solutions that will save time, labor and improve feeding precision is a key focus and we are seeing results with autonomous robots for bunk calling and feedout starting to come online commercially. Other examples include research into feed additives for methane emission suppression and developing materials that outline pathways to carbon neutrality for Australian feedlots.

RMAC: One of the Red Meat 2030 goals is for the Australian red meat and livestock industry to be recognised as the world-leader in animal health, welfare, biosecurity and production practices. How does ALFA contribute towards this goal? 

CM: ALFA has a reputation for taking emerging issues head on. Examples of this include the development and adoption of our Antimicrobial Stewardship Guidelines which have now been voluntarily adopted by 58% of feedlots. Another example is our most recent announcement, an initiative to encourage all Australian feedlots to implement shade in their feedlots. To the best of my knowledge both initiatives are currently unique to the Australian feedlot industry.

The initiatives are designed to ensure the care and welfare of cattle in Australian feedlots and positions our industry as a proactive, forward-thinking sector that will ultimately assist in the long-term sustainability of our industry.

RMAC: Sustainability is a major topic in cattle production, how does ALFA demonstrate leadership to its members, when it comes to sustainable practices on feedlots? 

CM: ALFA demonstrates leadership in sustainability through the services we provide to our members. We deliver a range of technical extension and training activities, workshops, career development programs and policy and advocacy efforts. All these activities ultimately aim to improve the feedlot industry’s operating environment and enable operators to continually improve, adopt, innovate, and contribute to the profitability, vibrancy, and sustainability of the red meat sector.

At an industry level, ALFA has been a significant contributor to the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework since its inception. ALFA representatives were intimately involved in the initial design of the framework and our own Immediate Past President, Tess Herbert of Gundamain Feedlot, is the current chair of the Sustainability Steering Group (SSG), so we are certainly engaged in this space. We also contribute to the framework report and our sector played a key role in driving Antimicrobial Stewardship which was one of the 6 priority areas set down by the Steering Group.

Looking ahead we are working with MLA to develop a practical booklet that outlines pathways for Australian feedlots to reach carbon neutrality. This work will ultimately help our sector contribute to the overall red meat industry goal to be carbon neutral by 2030 (CN30). 

RMAC: What systems have feedlots put in place this year to protect workers and the community from the effects of COVID-19? 

CM: 2020 will forever be etched as the year COVID-19 turned the world upside down, caused tragic loss of life, changed how we live and resulted in unprecedented economic disruption. As a member-based Association we moved quickly to help feedlot members continue operating business as usual. 

In the early stages of the outbreak there was a void of available information on prevention and what to do if a feedlot staff member contracted the virus. In response, ALFA develop tailored guidance material for feedlot operators to help operators prepare for and manage the impact of the virus.

These materials had broader appeal outside the feedlot industry having been downloaded from our website by over 1,000 people including livestock producers and processors.

Contingency planning is and remains a key strength of the feedlot industry. Feedlots responded by taking COVID-19 seriously and put systems and processes in place to help protect their working communities and shore-up business continuity. 

RMAC: A major priority for RM30 is to increase the reputation of red meat in the community and you have been working closely with MLA to showcase the feed lotting industry and its production methods to consumers through a new website. Tell us about this project and how it came about

CM: We know from MLA’s consumer insights work that today’s curious consumers seek out information about how their food is produced. We also know there is misinformation about the feedlot industry and intensive agriculture more generally.

As an industry backed by Quality Assurance principles for over 25 years and who’s producers have a clear focus on animal welfare and environmental management, we have a good story to tell. The Association felt we needed a platform where consumers and stakeholders could get access to the facts about our grain fed production system.

ALFA, in partnership with MLA, embarked on building a dedicated grain fed beef website designed to showcase the Australian lot feeding industry, its production methods and the high-quality beef it produces.  It has been an exciting project for ALFA and once launched, will help better inform the community and promote the credentials of grain fed beef and feedlot production.

RMAC: Can you tell us a bit more about the work you do to promote Aussie beef both domestically and internationally? 

CM: As feedlot operators work closely with processing operations, exporters and brand owners who market grain fed beef, ALFA is uniquely placed to work with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) in assisting investment decisions and prioritising grain fed levy investment into marketing activities and does this on an annual basis. MLA is then responsible for executing these domestic and international marketing programs.

MLA has a skilled team of marketing practitioners who undertake expert consumer sentiment, market segmentation and market access research and are experts in developing consumer focused strategies that promote the great product our members produce. Importantly they also work very closely with the commercial supply chain to ensure these investments are hitting the target and transpire into increased sales and satisfied consumers.

RMAC: One of your initiatives for the next 3 years is to continually improve the National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme, how does this work to improve confidence in grain fed beef for consumers? 

CM: The National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme or NFAS is the feedlot Industry’s Quality Assurance (QA) scheme and recently celebrated its 25th year. At the time of its introduction by ALFA it was the first QA based scheme in Australian agricultural and set the standard for many QA programs that followed. 

The Scheme encompasses requirements for feedlot production practices such as ration energy requirements, days on feed, animal health, welfare, biosecurity, and environmental management. NFAS Accredited feedlots are independently audited by AUS-MEAT annually and operators are required to conduct 6 monthly internal audits. NFAS also has a grading component at the processing facility and is linked through trade description requirements to ensure accurate labelling and description.  The system underpins the production and export of “certified grain fed beef” and has helped Australian brand owners deliver grain fed beef to market with confidence.

ALFA ensures that the NFAS continually evolves through periodic reviews and we are currently in the process of conducting one. The review process ensures the Scheme requirements are up to date with the most recent legislative and best practice requirements so that the feedlot industry can continue to be recognised as a producer of high quality grain fed beef on the global stage.