Beef production is big business in Australia. With around 700 accredited feedlots now across the country, sharing an annual production value of around $2.7 billion, this growing livestock industry knows just how important biosecurity is in maintaining Australia’s world-leading reputation for clean, safe, disease-free beef. For 2010 Biosecurity Farmer of the Year finalist, Jim Cudmore Kerwee Lot Feeders, of Jondaryan in South East Queensland, biosecurity is part of their everyday thinking and is one form of insurance their business cannot ignore.
The small, family-owned grain feeding facility is licensed to run around 9,171 standard cattle units and employs 11 full time people all year round. Specialising in the chilled, grain-fed, beef trade, Kerwee exports to around 37 countries including the United States, Japan, Korea, South East Asia, Indonesia, China, Russia and the Middle East.
Kerwee first introduced biosecurity practices to their quality assurance program around eight years ago in response to the organisation’s first expansion phase. Since then, the small business has developed a comprehensive biosecurity program to minimise the introduction of pests, weeds and disease, along with an emergency response plan designed to enable them to respond quickly and effectively in a potential biosecurity crisis.
The feedlot’s general manager, Jim Cudmore, says biosecurity is now firmly entrenched in the day-to-day management of the operation, focusing strongly on boundary security, visitor monitoring, livestock and commodity assessment and on-going training of employees, contractors and business associates.
As the feedlot is located next door to a popular Queensland tourist attraction, developing a thorough, yet manageable, process to assess the biosecurity risk of both drop-in tourists and business-related visitors was the first thing on the list.
“Because we are largely an export-focussed business, we are also very vigilant about overseas customers and visitors that view our operation firsthand. We have actually knocked back important customer groups from visiting here because they haven’t passed the Visitor Biosecurity Risk Assessment,” he said. “Recently we stopped a visit from an important delegation of Japanese customers coming here—a couple of them had come from the Miyazaki Prefecture in Japan where the foot and mouth outbreak was in April this year, so we decided to stop the whole group from visiting Kerwee. That might seem a bit extreme, but with a disease risk like foot and mouth, it is just sensible.”
Jim says they are extremely vigilant when monitoring for weeds, pests and disease and only purchase stock and feed with the relevant vendor declaration documentation. They also carryout sample analysis testing on feed brought on-site and conduct visual assessments of cattle on arrival and departure, as well as assessments for all machinery, vehicles and people entering the property.
Being one of the first feedlots in Australia to introduce such stringent biosecurity controls meant they not only had to train internal employees, but they also had to educate contractors, visitors and the surrounding community. And even though there was some initial resistance, Jim says things became relevant during the equine influenza outbreak in southern Queensland in 2007 because it helped raise community awareness and general acceptance of the biosecurity reasons and measures they had in place.
Jim believes it is crucial for the future security of the agricultural industry that individual agricultural businesses across Australia adopt simple and appropriate biosecurity practices into their day-to-day operations.
“At the end of the day biosecurity is about ensuring the disease-free status of our livestock and agricultural produce, having systems in place to roadblock disease and pest incursions, and producing clean, safe food. There is more and more consumer demand for this assurance. We deal directly with our customers and for the past eight to ten years that is the main focus—particularly as we are focused largely on the export market.
“Even domestically we are starting to see this new wave of beef consumers wanting to understand what is in their food and what production strategies have been used. Which is very positive as Australian livestock production, and more broadly, agriculture, has a marvellous reputation in supporting our food production story.”
According to Jim, raising the profile of farm biosecurity through national competitions, such as the Australian Farmer of the Year, helps to get the message across to a diverse range of farming businesses across Australia.
“Being a finalist for Biosecurity Farmer of the Year has been good because it helps promote the fact that biosecurity is important in the livestock industry and it raises the profile of an important area in which all farmers have a role. The second thing is that, yes, it has been frustrating and challenging at times implementing our program at Kerwee, but the recognition we received at the event actually reinforces that we are on the right track and we actually walk the talk,” he said.
“Biosecurity might not seem as important now as what it will one day in the future, but I see it as being proactive and, to some degree, an insurance policy that will help farmers act in an appropriate way and be able to respond quickly. In terms of Kerwee, if we were involved in some type of disease outbreak, I know we could respond within half an hour with information that six years ago would have probably taken us three days to put together, and still wouldn’t have got right. So I reckon that’s great.
“But more than that, we are more responsible and responsive about the decisions we make in relation to people, vehicle and livestock movements on a daily basis.”
Kerwee Lot Feeders’ foresight into biosecurity, along with their leadership in introducing practical and manageable measures to the national lot feeding industry, was acknowledged when they were recognised as Biosecurity Farmer of the Year finalists among a strong field of national nominees at the 2010 Australian Farmer of the Year Awards.