World’s best grass-fed steak

Handpicked genetics, farm systems and top notch grading to be crowned the best – the impact of a grading programme on our beef. Words by Sarah Perriam-Lampp

In Beef Country7 Minutes

If the Olympics had a category for best beef, New Zealand would most certainly be at the top of the table.At the prestigious 2023 World Steak Challenge – an event contested by the world’s top 25 steak producing countries – New Zealand-based meat companies Alliance, ANZCO Foods, Silver Fern Farms and First Light Farms took home a range of medals for their high-quality product.

“This global recognition validates our exceptional focus on excellence as we continue to grow our scale in premium beef. It will also help build confidence amongst consumers that we are continuing to create world class products,” shares Shane Kingston, Alliance Group General Manager Sales.

He said winning two gold medals for ribeye and fillet steaks processed at the company’s Pukeuri plant near Ōamaru, was a proud moment for the co-operative and farmer shareholders. “The farmers who supply our Pure South Handpicked 55 Day Aged Beef programme deserve great credit for this very high-quality award winning product.”

It helps us build confidence amongst consumers that we are continuing to create world class products.

Farm facts

  • Willesden, Banks Peninsula, Canterbury
  • 6,500 hectares, steep hill country to plains
  • 1,250 Angus cows and heifers
  • Hereford and Charolais used for cross-breeding
  • Plus dairy farms finishing dairy beef

Feedback is key

Canterbury farmer Matt Iremonger says Alliance’s reports are useful for helping make informed onfarm decisions. He’s always seen the need for a robust grading programme for New Zealand beef so leapt at the chance to join Alliance Group’s Pure South Handpicked Beef programme. “We like the information provided by the programme and would welcome that going further – more details and feedback on each individual carcase.”

Matt is General Manager of Willesden Farm, a beef, sheep and dairy operation on Banks Peninsula and the Canterbury Plains. The farm has been sending beef cattle to Alliance for processing for five years. “It’s a good programme,” says Matt. “NZ produces some very good beef but it does not have the global reputation it could have because of the lack of a grading programme.”

“The problem with not having grading is that good beef can get swamped by average beef. We really need a beef grading programme and Alliance’s Handpicked programme has been a positive step in that direction.

“Consistent grading provides customers and consumers with the right eating experience, and the right product.”

The Willesden farming operation extends over 6500ha with the majority moderate-to-steep hill country. Rainfall and altitude can vary significantly within a short distance on the property. The beef herd of 1250 cows and heifers calving is predominantly Angus with some Hereford and Charolais for a cross-breeding programme.

The right genetics and the right farm systems to achieve the right product consistently can be especially challenging with a pasture-based system because of the variability of conditions.

Calves are born in the high country and then weaned and finished on improved pasture and winter feed forages under irrigation.

Matt says he doesn’t consider there is any secret to producing great quality beef but it is not easy to achieve. “The key is the right genetics and the right farm systems to achieve the right product consistently, but that can be especially challenging with a pasture-based system because of the variability of conditions.

“Beef has a very positive future. We have a good sustainability story for international customers and New Zealand has the opportunity to capitalise on that through beef grading and ensuring consistency of quality. Providing customers with exactly what they want.

“We look forward to the Handpicked programme building to a greater premium because that enables you to invest more into your genetics and farm systems to provide an even better product in the future.”

The 100% farmer-owned red meat cooperative launched the Handpicked Beef programme in 2019. It uses an internationally-credible assessment system to measure eating quality with the qualifying beef exported to markets willing to pay a premium. Alliance offers farmers a supply contract premium above the ruling schedule at the time of processing for stock that meets specifications.

Alliance has partnered with Australian agtech solutions provider MEQ, to deploy lamb and beef probes powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence to measure the intramuscular fat (IMF) levels in lamb and marbling percentages in beef.

To qualify for the Handpicked 55 Day Aged Beef programme, carcases must achieve a certain marbling score; meat fat and meat colour attributes, and pH must be less than or equal to 5.7. All stock must also be Farm Assured, meet the special raising claims programme and be NAIT tagged.

Alliance provides individual chiller reports back to farmers on the fat colour, meat colour, marbling and pH values of each group of their cattle sent for processing.

This objective, measurable data, gives farmers visibility about the meat quality they supply so they can make informed decisions about breeding programmes and feed; leading to more sustainable livestock management.