This was one of the observations made by Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s International Beef Alliance’s Young Leaders Dani Darke and Mark Murphy on a recent visit to the South American country.
Paraguay hosted this year’s International Beef Alliance (IBA) conference and Dani and Mark gained an insight into Paraguay’s beef industry as a prelude to the five-day conference.
Both says visiting farms was an eye-opener. They were large and benefited from a huge, low-cost labour resource, but challenges included pasture quality, nutrition and access to some technologies. There is limited use of rotational grazing and while farmers are starting to re-grass with better quality pastures, this is done by re-planting the grass plants- which is a very slow and labour-intensive process. This improvement does however lift the carrying capacity of the land from one cow/four ha to one cow/ha.
Breeding cows in Paraguay were weaning an average of 47%, although the huge 33,000ha beef operation they visited were weaning 85%, which reflected the focus they put on feeding and genetics.
This farm, which was divided into 160ha blocks – each with its own gaucho - ran an extensive breeding programme using technologies such as embryo transfers and artificial insemination in their Zebu (Bos indicus) and Brangus (Brahman Angus) and Braford (Brahman Hereford) cattle.
Mark says Paraguay is flat with a hot climate. Temperatures at the time of their visit reached around 40c, so pastures are limited to C4-type grasses that are able to handle the heat. The main pasture plant farmers are sowing is Pangola, a C4 grass that grows like tussock. It doesn’t seed like grass, hence the need to transplant it rather than drill the seed directly into the ground.
Land is cheap, selling for around $1,000/ha but so are cattle, with store cattle selling for US$1/kg and finished cattle making US$2/kg. Most beef is consumed domestically with some exported to Russia.
While these farming systems are very different to those in NZ, Dani says farmers in both countries face similar challenges - such as environmental sustainability and an increasing urban and rural divide.
These challenges were amongst those discussed at the IBA conference in Asuncion, along with issues such as non-tariff trade barriers, falling beef consumption, the threat from synthetic proteins, the trend to reduced trade liberalisation and the need for beef producing nations to work collaboratively on common issues such as trade.
Mark says it was heartening to have seven beef producing nations, all competing for market share but all willing to work collaboratively to share ideas and intelligence.
“It’s great to know you have a powerhouse behind you, you have seven other countries backing you.”
At a differentiated Young Leader session, Young Leader representatives from all member countries researched the potential impact of synthetic meats on the beef industry. They then presented their findings to the general assembly.
While synthetic meat has captured media attention in this country, Dani says the issue has flown under the radar in other IBA member countries, so B+LNZ’s project to assess potential red meat sector responses to advances in alternative protein technology was seen as ground-breaking.
“We are leading the thinking around this.”
Dani and Mark say they felt very proud of the way New Zealand was represented at the IBA by B+LNZ.
“I felt pride in seeing our leaders take on a leadership role within the IBA and drive the agenda.
They did a really great job.”
As to the way to counter the threat from synthetic meats- Dani says the Young Leaders felt the story around beef produced by small family-owned farming businesses could never be countered by synthetic meat producers.
“We just need to differentiate our product to consumers and focus on the positives.”
Like Mark, Dani believes NZ benefits from its involvement in the IBA by being part of a united voice representing 63 per cent of global beef production.
“Having a united voice helps to achieve outcomes that may not be possible by a single country, especially in terms of trade liberalisation and when dealing with non-tariff trade barriers.”
The International Beef Alliance includes national organisations representing beef producers in Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, United States and New Zealand. Collectively, producers within the IBA countries account for 46% of global beef cattle production and 63% of global beef exports.