Wayne McNee, director general at the Ministry for Primary Industries, said that the government had approved funding for the new programme through its Primary Growth Partnership (PGP).
According to McNee, the PGP is committing NZ$11m over seven years for a programme worth NZ$23.7m (US€18.88m).
“The programme aims to put New Zealand marbled beef 'centre of the plate' in much the same way as New Zealand lamb is in key international markets,” said McNee.
“We want foodies to actively seek out New Zealand marbled beef because it consistently delivers on taste and tenderness and embodies consumer beliefs and lifestyles,” he added.
Katherine Rich, chief executive of the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council, told FoodNavigator-Asia that it was a positive announcement for the sector.
“The Ministry and Government deserve to be commended for such a significant contribution to support this innovative project,” she said.
Japan, China on the radar
Marbling, the distribution of fat through meat, is the primary determinant of quality in table beef in markets such as Japan, China and the US. Overseas, such high quality beef is produced mainly from cattle housed in pens and fed grain.
According to McNee, to produce comparable meat fed off New Zealand grass, the new PGP programme will combine high-marbling cattle genetics with New Zealand's strengths in pastoral agriculture.
“This programme will produce unique New Zealand high-value beef for discerning consumers. It will link specialists in dairy farming, cattle breeding, finishing, processing and marketing, and deliver market signals effectively right through the value chain,” he said, adding that the programme aligns well with the Red Meat Sector Strategy.
Hawke's Bay companies, Brownrigg Agriculture and Firstlight Foods, are currently running the programme in New Zealand.
David Brownrigg, managing director of Brownrigg Agriculture, said it will be a significant opportunity for beef and dairy farmers to lift the quality and value of their calves and finished cattle.
Brownrigg Agriculture claims to have built a substantial Wagyu genetics resource in New Zealand over the past 15 years, and these genetics will be used to produce crossbred cattle from both the New Zealand dairy and beef herds.
“The New Zealand dairy sector represents an underutilised resource for producing quality beef calves. Brownrigg's Wagyu crossed with 'Kiwi' dairy cows and Angus beef cows will produce outstanding beef and help us lift our game in international markets,” Brownrigg said.
Gerard Hickey, managing director of Firstlight Foods said the opportunity would revitalise the beef industry.
“Instead of being price-takers on the day, a planned marketing programme to selected high-end global customers will enable beef farmers to build their businesses with confidence,” said Hickey.
Firstlight Foods specialises in identifying market niches for branded, differentiated meats produced by farmers working cooperatively in Producer Groups. The PGP programme will build new groups and develop a distinctive brand and direct marketing approach, the company claims.
The programme will utilise calves that are currently ‘by-products’ from the dairy industry. Dairy breeds – such as the Friesian, Jersey and the Friesian/Jersey cross known as the ‘Kiwi’ are known to produce marbled beef, so mating them with Wagyu sires should provide an excellent source of high-marbling calves.
The programme will identify the genetics in Wagyu sires most suited to producing offspring with good marbling and growth rates as well as develop the feeding and farming practices required to ensure farmers are able to produce quality animals that the market demands on a continuous basis.
It would also develop a brand and the marketing infrastructure required to support this premium product in key markets.