An Interview With: Sam Brown LiveCorp CEO.

As the research body and service provider for the Australian livestock export industry, LiveCorp works closely with exporters to improve animal welfare, supply chain efficiency and market access. 

With continuing strong demand for Australian livestock and a brand new Strategic Plan 2025 hot off the press, we spoke to LiveCorp CEO Sam Brown about all things research, resilience and Red Meat 2030. 

RMAC: LiveCorp has just released its Strategic Plan 2025, which focuses on four strategic imperatives, each with underlying goals. Can you tell us the process you undertook to develop the plan?

SB: The first part involved formulating a comprehensive brief for the external consultant, and to do this we looked across existing industry and Government strategies to use as a guide and reference. This included Red Meat 2030 as well as other key stakeholder strategic plans in the final stages of completion, notably MLA’s, to ensure we align and leverage our efforts and avoid duplication.

We engaged a consultant that we felt had the capability to delve deep into the thinking of our membership, and extract insights on where they wanted to be by 2025. 

COVID was just taking hold and many exporters were under a lot of pressure – they were facing enormous uncertainty and, like us all, found it extremely difficult to see beyond the month ahead, let alone five years’ time. However, we took the view that ‘now more than ever’ was the time to think strategically. All the consultation was conducted virtually and we perhaps reached more export businesses through this process than we would have otherwise.

Our consultant did a great job in bringing out where stakeholders felt we performed well, where we’d performed poorly, and where we needed to improve the most. From this, he set about establishing our stakeholder viewpoints, building the Strategic Plan from the ground up through consultation. This methodology served the project well and we feel our members can see their contribution within the Plan, which is very important to us.

We hope the Plan will showcase our immense value economically, and gain recognition for the industry’s investment and commitment towards animal welfare, both now and particularly in the future. 

RMAC: How do the goals within the Strategic Plan support RM2030?

SB: Red Meat 2030’s vision is about doubling the value of Australian red meat. LiveCorp’s greatest area of contribution to this vision is around gaining and improving market access for the livestock production regions that are focused on the live trade, reducing trade barriers and red tape, and improving systems and processes that support efficient and effective industry compliance with regulations. 

Part of doubling the value will come from building trust across all key markets, particularly as we continue to navigate historically high cattle prices and a globally competitive market place. We have made some strides in this space by demonstrating our reliability as a supplier, during difficult times, but more thinking and effort will be required to support exporters to manager their customer relations. We will always maintain a focus on improving market access and we have been able to progress some positive discussions in this area due to our reputation as a reliable and safe exporter. 

Two areas we will contribute to doubling red meat value are: 

  1. our system-based approach to compliance, which has forced efficiency. 
  2. a redesign on how we do R&D, bringing a new process to identify drivers and extension programmes at the start of research projects, rather than at the end.

A large part of our focus has been to establish and maintain our essential service status, which has helped to reassure our international trading partners. This status will be critical as we move beyond COVID-19 in supporting Red Meat 2030, looking at how we can reduce costs, as well as update, modernise and streamline export certification and compliance processes.

RMAC: LiveCorp has a strong focus on animal welfare and generating positive health and welfare outcomes in the strategic plan. Can you tell us a key project underway, or in the pipeline in this area?

SB: Animal welfare is at the centre of everything we do. Now, more than ever, we’re looking closely not just at our research in this area but similar or related projects across the red meat sector, to identify knowledge gaps which may help to address one of the greatest challenges – welfare indicators that go beyond mortality.

To understand the drivers around good health and welfare, we have a long term research project looking into animal welfare indicators across the livestock export trade. While this continues, we’ve started a side project to accelerate answers on how we start to measure practical and meaningful indicators of welfare within our regulatory framework.

Our LIVEXCollect project makes a start on these answers. By collecting consistent and standardised data on board vessels, we move forward in terms of data quality and the ability to conduct analysis. From this, we can establish baselines or benchmarks to assess indicators of both performance and welfare, and refine and adapt our methodology to ensure we’re capturing data that tells you the most, so it’s easier to interpret and improve decision making.

There are many other research areas that we will be able to leverage in order to better inform this work, such as stocking density, bedding, ammonia and improved ventilation technology on board vessels.

RMAC: Market access is another of LiveCorp’s strategic imperatives. What are you working on now, and how has that changed as a result of COVID-19?

SB: We’re fortunate to have a highly efficient and effective program, supported by our industry protocol committee and strong government engagement, to maintain and progress market access.

It may be some time before delegations and importing country officials can once again travel to Australia, so we’ve been looking at how to remotely communicate elements of the supply chain that our trading partners need to be aware of – particularly our systems to support biosecurity arrangements. For example officials from Japan would normally view health certification processes in person, and now we need other ways of demonstrating them remotely, such as video links. 

COVID-19 also required a hard look at our process, to ensure industry was taking all possible measures to manage and protect the biosecurity of our livestock and people. Crew and vessel logistics are key to the success of the industry, and LiveCorp developed models for zero contact supply chains to deliver livestock with minimal person-to-person contact. We also developed a short-term stockperson accreditation program to help fill the gap in availability of on-board stockpeople.

RMAC: The Strategic Plan outlines LiveCorp’s vision to ‘lead the world’ in the livestock export sector. How does the Australian livestock export sector differ to other markets? 

SB: One of our greatest points of difference is our capacity to bring exporters together and prioritise research that supports improved performance and productivity. LiveCorp’s single focus on live exports allows us to bring about a level of coordination our competitors have not been able to achieve, to identify and address challenges at an industry level. This can be seen across areas of regulations, market access and communication.

We’re certainly a world leader in sea and air transport standards, unmatched by any other country, but to maintain this, we have to seek continuous improvement. LiveCorp is on a constant lookout for innovation, with a close ear to the issues and challenges before the industry in order to regularly review investments in training, science and research.

While we have a strong portfolio of our own research, we’re always looking to leverage knowledge from other industries – we ask what have people done in other areas of research? We learned about automated counting from the fisheries sector and dehumidification from deep mining and defence – wherever possible we adapt things that have been done before, rather than starting from scratch. 

RMAC: Livestock exports can be a controversial topic at times. What is LiveCorp doing to increase acceptance of the industry?

SB: The first step is to understand what the community thinks. We initiated the Voconiq project to listen to feedback from consumers and the community. Once we understand people’s views, we can look at how to align with their values and expectations, putting us in a better position to respond.

We now understand the information gaps and we’re focusing on providing more visibility and transparency about the industry, removing the guesswork. We’re better positioned to inform and support the industry, giving exporters a voice to speak about how they do things, directly to the community. This includes the importance of the industry to the red meat sector – how and why it is integral to our broader international trading relationships, and at the farm gate level, how it provides diversity in income for farmers and pressure relief in times of drought. 

RMAC: What role do you see LiveCorp playing in Red Meat 2030’s strategic vision for Australia being “the trusted source of the highest quality protein”?

SB: The global demand for protein is growing, and will continue to do so as the population and middle class in our key markets grow. These consumers have high nutritional expectations and Australian red meat – and livestock – are sought after because of their quality and animal health. 

The livestock export sector can help open up developing markets up to other products, including chilled meat. Once an international market understands our protocols, it makes negotiation easier for other industries. 

By continually improving our systems, embracing new tech and keeping communication to members, stakeholders and the community open, the industry can build on its relationships with trading partners and increase this trust over the next 10 years. For this, LiveCorp plays an integral part.