Cattle and sheep gather to feed.
A study is examining how livestock producers can boost sustainability and maintain productivity. Image by David Mariuz/AAP PHOTOS
  • agriculture

Dozens of red meat producers join sustainability study

Liv Casben October 1, 2023

Dozens of farmers are taking part in one of Australia’s largest ever studies of sustainability in the red meat industry.

Producers across 10 million hectares will investigate how they can improve farming foundations to boost sustainability while maintaining productivity and profitability. 

The Food for the Future study is looking at how producers can tackle emissions reduction, increase biodiversity and expand their regenerative agriculture techniques within the red meat supply chain.

Global meat producer Hewitt, which runs Australia’s largest red meat organic supply chain, is leading the study alongside Meat and Livestock Australia and conservation group Bush Heritage Australia.

Hewitt’s 80 beef and lamb suppliers have been approached to take part in the research, with a quarter opting in on the carbon part of the project.

Nathan Moore from Hewitt said the information will help red meat producers understand how sustainability can be achieved in a practical way.

“There is an existing gap in the red meat industry for understanding greenhouse gas accounting and how it fits into an enterprise,” he told AAP.

He said the research will help producers better understand emissions reduction and how it relates to sustainability for organic production. The information will also be shared outside of the Hewitt network.

“We’ll be extending those lessons to potentially an additional 200 producers through public sessions around the findings and what we’ve discovered through our supply chain,” he said.

The study, which began in March, involved greenhouse gas accounting on 400,000 head of cattle and sheep across more than five million hectares of land.

Soil mapping and testing has been carried out over more than four million hectares, with that expected to ramp up to 10 million by 2025.

Mr Moore said drones have gathered information across 700 of Hewitt’s sites assessing their biodiversity value, while the project is also exploring how money can be made from carbon.

It is that huge scale that makes the project unique, according to the Meat and Livestock Association.

“It’s one of the largest, if not the largest projects in this space to look at livestock production and its interaction with the environment,” the association’s Jason Strong said.

“It’s looking at how do we demonstrate the sustainability of the red meat sector in a commercial and practical way?

“It’s a broad scale project that covers a large range of environmental conditions, but it’s happening at scale.”

Mr Strong said the study is assessing what approaches are already working commercially and aims to demonstrate how producers can be both environmentally sustainable and productive.

The study is being rolled out over two stages across 2023 and 2024, with updates delivered along the way.