Wagyu beef cooking on barbecue.

Australian Wagyu beef producers report 300 per cent increase in demand

Australian Wagyu producers are unable to meet domestic and international demand as appetite for the premium meat soars.

Irongate Wagyu, based near Albany in Western Australia’s Great Southern region, produces full-blood Wagyu, which can sell for as much as $450 per kilogram.

Managing director Peter Gilmore said interest in the company’s carcasses and genetics had tripled over the past 12 months.

“The increase is demand, I would say, is around 300 per cent,” he said.

“If we had three times the number of animals, we probably could not meet that demand.”

Irongate’s Peter Gilmore says there are about 1,000 breeders, 700 weaners and 500 feeder animals on farm.(ABC Great Southern: Angus Mackintosh)

Irongate sells genetics to Australian producers and Mr Gilmore predicts the domestic Wagyu industry will expand.

“On the animal production side, we have seen a very big uptick and a lot of people are purchasing … to try and obviously lift their own farm gate receipt — I mean, Wagyu produces a significant premium over the rest of beef production,” he said.

“I think the industry has the potential to actually, in the future, get up there with equal to Japanese production.”

The increased investment in Wagyu is not limited to the southern parts of the state.

Pardoo Beef Corporation, based in the north, has invested more than $75 million in its Wagyu operation.

Its Singaporean owner, Bruce Cheung, plans to run more than 100,000 head of cattle across the Pilbara and Kimberley by 2035 in a business worth $3 billion.

A smiling butcher with a rich dark beard stands behind the counter with his arms folded.
Nathan Robb was one of the first butchers to sell full-blood Wagyu in Western Australia.(Supplied: Nathan Robb)

Domestic demand soars

Nathan Robb, the owner of Bullsbrook-based Bully Butcher, says he needs more than double what Irongate supplies him with to meet demand.

“We receive [the Wagyu] on a Monday, by the following Monday it’s gone,” he said.

“Everything is pretty much put on hold for customers in advance.

“In the last 12 to 18 months it has gone from a little bit of interest to almost every customer asking a question about it.

“A lot of people don’t know what it is, they see it and think, ‘Wow I wouldn’t mind trying that.'”

Mr Gilmore said that increase in domestic demand was correlated to a changed health focus.

“People understand that intramuscular fat can actually be good for you … I think there has been a real health focus shift and enjoyment for produce,” he said.

“If you go back two years when COVID first started, we had very little domestic output, almost nothing.

“Now domestic would be 40 per cent of our total production.”

Wagyu cows in a paddock.
Japan ceased releasing full-blood Wagyu genetics in the mid-1990s.(ABC Great Southern: Sophie Johnson)

Markets boom amid FMD threat

South-East Asian countries are asking for more Australian Wagyu because Japan is a selective exporter.

“Japan has a very satiated market,” Mr Gilmore said.

“They’re a net importer of meat, so they don’t really need to export.

“The international demand for Wagyu has been quite extraordinary over the past year, the amount of inquiry that has come in at a range of different levels from many different countries.

“There’s a Chinese demand which is enormous and certainly is the kind of demand that we would struggle with supply to meet.”

A calf lies down in the grass near its mother.
There are huge growth opportunities for Australian producers, but a disease outbreak could undo years of work.(ABC Great Southern: Sophie Johnson)

Scott Richardson, the managing director of producer and distributor Stone Ax Pastoral Company, says a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak could stop the trade in its tracks.

“If foot-and-mouth disease was introduced into Australia it would potentially decimate the Australian Wagyu beef breed, along with other elite genetics within the cattle breeding industry,” he said.

“It would particularly impact the full-blood Wagyu breed, given that Japan isn’t releasing any more full-blood Wagyu genetics.

“Australia would need to rebuild its herd with the genetics left on hand and what can be sourced internationally.

“It would take years and years to rebuild the herd to its current numbers.”

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