Kurt: International Jetsetter Extraordinaire!

Host: Country Downs Station
Written by Kurt Elezovich – Owner, Country Downs Station.

Today is Kurt’s turn to write again. One of our blogs in 2014 was about our own self-arranged visit to Sumatra where we were absolutely privileged to be able to see first-hand what happens to Australian livestock when it arrives in Indonesia. We showed you our visit to an abattoir and also two feedlots in Sumatra, and what an eye-opener that was to us. In short, we were totally impressed.

So when a Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia (DAFWA) supported program came along, Kurt jumped at the chance to have another look at what happens in Indonesia, but also to go over to Vietnam and see what is happening there as well. Whilst he was away, of course the daily grind of the station was left up to me and naturally everything breaks down or goes to custard when the one person who can fix it is not available! Such is the life on a station and we got through it, albeit slightly worn and torn. I will let Kurt take over to tell his tale and hopefully give you all a better insight and to share in our excitement over the new and emerging opportunities that are becoming available to the Australian live export industry and the Australian agricultural industry as a whole.

– Nikki

Kurt: Last season I was fortunate enough to be able to take part in a DAFWA Producer Delegation to Indonesia and Vietnam which involved visiting a number of live export supply chain members in both countries. Having visited Sumatra before with my wife and previously learned a bit of Bahasa Indonesian (language), I had a fair idea what to expect in Indonesia and made it reasonably easy to communicate with people along the way to gain perspective on the different needs of our customers. It seems that genetics plays a key role in the market and different markets have different requirements for tropical adaptation, resulting in very different specifications between Java and Sumatra – two islands that are literally within sight of each other on a clear day.

People may be interested to learn that Indonesia has some of the most efficient and advanced feeding operations in the world. Indonesian feedlots have been known to achieve daily live weight gains that are the envy of the western world due to highly scientific feed blending by utilising both local agricultural by-products like cassava chips and pineapple tops as well as imports like copra meal and molasses. Not only are they extremely efficient, they also take the health and welfare of the animals very seriously; feed mix variation is strictly controlled by vets and livestock nutritionists.

Feedlotting is the final phase of the supply chain prior to slaughter, with animals having more than doubled their body weight in around three months, something we cannot achieve in Australia regardless of cost. They then go to be processed. The slaughter and subsequent butchering of the animal was something I witnessed being done with care, respect, and great efficiency under the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) program. While this aspect of things is one people tend to avoid, I am pleased to report that as a producer of live export cattle I have been there and seen it first hand, and was impressed at the welfare standards that are imposed under the ESCAS system – the only one like it in the world – something we can be proud of as Australian producers!

2.1Elders feedlot, Sumatra, Indonesia.

This is the point when the supply chain starts to become significantly different from what we have in Australia. Animals are sold individually at point of slaughter and your local butchers take over the carcass and process it to their requirements. This is completely different from how we do it.

The only part that doesn’t go for human consumption is the gut contents, even the skin is eaten! Those that know their biology, will remember that the skin is the largest organ of the body, so there is a great value-add right there! (I tried it and it’s pretty good). The point I am making here is that the product differs greatly from what is produced in Australian abattoirs, so domestic processing could never meet this demand (pun intended!). There is some high end retail of primary cuts with strong competition from American products. The main bulk of the market goes into the wet market supply chain I described above. It was great to meet so many lovely people and gain a mutual understanding with our supply chain partners across the sea – closer than you might even think – our property is closer to Jakarta than it is to Canberra.

2.2An example of high end retail beef cuts in an Indonesian supermarket.

2.3Steak and chips, Jakarta style.

After a hectic few days in Indonesia we flew to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, which was culturally very different from the mainly Muslim population of Indonesia. South Vietnam still has a distinctly French influence from the pre-communist colonial era, noticeable in both the architecture and the food, both of which are magnificent!

Vietnam’s imported beef cattle supply chain is a lot newer than Indonesia and as such, while still highly professional, did not yet have quite as good daily weight gains as Indonesia. However, they are not far from realising that potential. Learning from experienced people in the global supply chain, the industry in Vietnam is catching up fast both in terms of size and efficiency. What we saw of the retail sector in Vietnam there is more supermarket style sales than wet market but that could be a function of being in such a huge city for most of the trip.

2.4Government feedlot Research Station in Vietnam.

2.5Supermarket advertising in Vietnam. Sometimes things get lost in translation!

The sheer volume of people was just overwhelming for a kid from the bush, as was the traffic that drives on the right; it was just too scary to look out the front of the vehicle. I only sat in the front once and that was enough! Unfortunately I am a bit short on detail for the Vietnam section of the trip as by this time I was getting some kind of bad flu sickness. The day after I flew back into Broome, I ended up in hospital hooked up to an IV for a week with suspected Dengue Fever or Typhus!

Overall, the delegation and market insights trip was a great success as we all learnt a lot about our international clients and their needs. And while I realise this might not be what Central Station followers are expecting to read, but it’s important that people understand that there is far more to our industry than just stockwhips and bullcrap!

2.6Visiting the Chu Chi Viet Cong Tunnels . . . Oh so squeezy!

2.7Hotel laundry apology, Vietnam!