Washington D.C. is the North American headquarters for Meat & Livestock Australia. As well as looking after the United States, they also cover Canada and Mexico. I got to spend a day in their D.C. office and talk with the staff about what they are doing to build demand for Aussie Beef in North America.
The staff are present at a number of trade shows from the east to west coast of the United States. They always cook product at these trade shows to give people a chance to taste Aussie beef (as well as lamb and goat) and through this, a number of networks are built within the retail sector. The main aim for MLA in North America is to promote a point of difference for purchasing Aussie beef. One example includes chilled Australian beef has a 120 day shelf life, whereas US beef only has a 45 – 50 day shelf life, something very important for retailers in particular. Australia will export 250,000t of beef this year to North America, which makes it our second largest export market.
Consumers, not only the United States, but worldwide, are becoming increasingly aware of where their food comes from, and sustainibility and food safety are high on the list of importance. Part of the job in promoting our beef to chefs, hotels and food service operators, is that their philosophy is line with what MLA in the US are trying to sell. If a famous chef, for example, is then pushing Australian beef, consumers are more likely to want to buy it. There is also an opportunity in niche markets for Aussie beef in the US, such as organic and Wagyu.
What a great opportunity to get a firsthand look at how our beef is being promoted to the US!
The beef research unit at Purdue University was very interesting to get to look around and find out some more about the research they do with beef cattle. Purdue have purebred Simmental and Angus cattle, but the majority of them are now SimAngus (half blood). They have a sale each spring in which they sell cow/calf pairs, and the cows are left open so that the new owners can join them to the bull of their choosing. They do a lot of their research on heifers, but only until the heifers are 2 years old. Some of the research currently going on at the beef unit included measuring performance and conception rates of heifers on limited feed rations, research on the use of dried distillers grain (DDG’s) in diets, and also the use of the liquid component, CDS (condensed distillers’ solubles), that is remaining after the production of ethanol, in the diets of cattle. I was able to see their bred heifers and cows and calves, and look at where they undertake their research on different projects and talk about them.
Not quite beef cows, but cows none the less! I got to visit and tour Fair Oaks Farms in North West Indiana, a 32,000 head dairy. The majority of cows (about 99%) are Holstein Friesian, with a few other breeds making up the rest. The 32,000 cows are not all at one dairy, as Fair Oaks owns a number of dairies and the cows are split up between these. It takes 800 cows to fill 1 milk tanker, so they work on multiples of 800, be it 800, 1600, 2400, or 3200 cows at each of their dairies, so as they are never filling a half or quarter truck, but always a full tanker. They have a big rotary dairy which milks around 72 cows at one time. The cows walk onto the rotary voluntarily, and then once the rotary completes a full revolution, the cows just back out to head back to their pens. It is not very often that they have to be pushed to go onto or come off the rotary. We took a bus tour around their facilities, showing where the cows get milked, their stalls, birthing areas, waste disposal facilities and where they keep their feed to make their own specially formulated ration for the cows.
As it is located between the two major cities of Chicago and Indianapolis, a lot of city people visit the dairy. For that reason, they have heavily focused on educating the consumer to try and dispel some of the misconceptions within the industry. They also have a shop where the public can purchase their milk, cheese, butter and ice-cream.
For the past 16 years, the Blue Ribbon Foundation, a fundraising body for the Iowa State Fairgrounds, has held a Corn Dog Kickoff which supports its annual fair that is held in August. I went to the event, which is a major fundraiser and includes a live and silent auction, food stalls and merchandise stands. All the items are donated by businesses or privately with the smaller items going into the silent auction and the bigger value items in the live auction. Two of the items in the live auction made $20,000! One was a handcrafted wooden table, the other a tour of the Barilla pasta factory in Northern Iowa, plus a meal cooked by a professional chef afterwards.
There was so much food there I think I almost burst trying all the different things! There were deep fried Oreos, funnel cakes, hot beef sundaes, giant Turkey legs, fairy floss, apples with caramel sauce, sweet and salty popcorn and fairy floss (just to name a few), and of course the ever popular corn dog, or Dagwood dog as we would call them in Australia. What a great way to experience American state fair culture!