Intercollegiate Meat Judging Part 2

On Wednesday we had the official opening in the morning before the days lectures started, first up was a overview of the Australian Meat Industry by Ben Thomas from MLA before a introduction into meat science by Dr Peter McGilchrist from the MLA and a talk on southern lamb production by Tom Bull from Lambpro. Following the mid-morning break we received a talk on research opportunities in the meat industry from Dr Alex Ball and a talk on the pork processing sector from Professor Robert van Barneveld from the Pork CRC where he asked a question that really got us thinking ” Can you name another industry where the consumer is trying to push it back two hundred years?” This question got us thinking about future challenges and how we are meant to balance consumer demands with the practicalities of feeding the world.

After lunch we spilt into groups and attended a range of workshops including  one on livestock marketing and the importance of market specs given by Delta Ag, The workshops also covered flavour and MSA testing of primals as well as one on lamb carcase yield where the difference in profit of two carcasses was worked out. But what I thought was the most interesting demonstration was the workshop on value adding through muscle seaming, this work shop showed us how to extract tender muscles from otherwise not so tender primals. This workshop was quite a display and I only wish that I could remember the techniques used better than I can as it all looked quite good. That night we had dinner a great dinner at the Wagga RSL thanks to Murray Valley Pork.

Our first lecture on Thursday was by Andrina and Lachlan Graham from Argyle Prestige meats and was about the vertical integration of their business, as they not only grow the livestock but slaughter, process and market as well. Tess Herbert from ALFA then spoke about beef feedlotting industry and Grant Garey from Teys Australia spoke about the beef processing sector. After the morning break we were told about the lamb processing sector by Paul Leonard from Thomas Foods International before gaining a insight into what it is like to supply the world largest food service operator, McDonald’s. This interesting and informative talk was given by Andrew Brazier from MAC, McDonald’s meat supplier.

The workshops after lunch were training sessions for the different types of judging we would have to complete over the next few days, this included pork carcases and primals where the visitors from Texas show’d haw to judge pork primals. Other categories that we went over included judging lamb carcases, identification of primals and retail cuts, MSA eating quality class and how to effectively write out our reasoning in the written reasons class. Dinner that night was again at the RSL and sponsored by AAco.

On Friday morning we received a lecture on live export and the animal welfare improvements that are occurring in the industry while we were having having breakfast. After breakfast we rotated through the careers expo, a workshop on interview and resume skills as well a workshop on ways agriculture could meet environmental challenges and reduce our carbon footprint.

After lunch the competition began with the small stock competition beginning, the small stock competition involved judging lamb and pork carcasses, a retail cuts class and a written reasons class. This seemed to go alright but only time would tell, after this we again had dinner at the RSL eating a wonderfully delicious lamb rack supplied by sponsors.

Then at 6am on Saturday morning the main competition began as we arrived at the abattoirs for our beef judging competition.  We were in the chillers from 7:30 through to 11:00 completing primal judging, pricing classes, eating quality for both domestic and export beef. By the end of the day we had three members of team UNE in the top ten and moving on to the next round that is still to come in Brisbane.

The 2013 ICMJ competition was a great experience and I look forward to competing next year, I would like to thank our coaches from UNE for taking us there and Teys Cargill for the warm jackets that we wore into the chillers.


Under Threat And Under Water

In late 2011 I was working as an irrigator on a Cotton property just outside of Moree in Northern NSW, everything was pretty constant so when one cycle finished the next one started with their sometimes being a day or two in between. Smoko time consisted of working out if there was going to be a gap between cycles so we could have a day off and staring at the weather forecast on our phones. But there was something different about this week, Friday had a ninety percent chance of over one hundred millimetres of rain or one sixth of our annual rainfall in one day, there was nothing of note leading up to Friday so we assumed it was a typo or glitch. But as the week progressed the prediction didn’t change and then sure enough on the Friday the skies opened up dropping inches of rain. So the rush was on to open up the irrigation gates and starting the pumps so we could get the water off the fields and into the dams all while trying to drive around the slippery roads without sliding into a channel, then during the afternoon the call came through that they were shutting the road to town, two people had to stay to check the pumps and stop the water building up too much but the rest of us were wasting no time getting into our cars and high tail it back home.Pic_1125_027


The rain continued over the weekend with the flood water rising up threatening the town, people where stranded with two people even getting airlifted off a tractor. I ended up getting called up and asked to help fill sandbags that were distributed around the town, with nothing else to do I imminently agreed and after a quick trip to town I was soon filling sandbags with other volunteers. We got a good system going that allowed us to keep up with demand where we had six people lined up in front of the Bob Cat bucket and filling them straight from the bucket, although some people would deem it unsafe no one got hurt and it was the only way we were able to keep up with demand as it was quicker than using the sand bagging machine and way quicker than using the shovel.

The Team

The Team


At Work

At Work


After a few days the road was reopened to four wheel drives only (I didn’t know that at the time) so I got in my Mum’s trusty commodore and started driving to work, when I came across the flood water I was lucky enough to be behind a road train so I sat right up its tail which helped to push the water away with only a bit of the muddy flood water seeping in through the door. It wasn’t the biggest trouble of the trip though, that came when I tried to get up the farms black soil driveway. The two wheel drive automatic struggled for traction as it slipped from side to side and it even managed to push through even more flood water until I reached the shed.

I'm Sure There Was A Cotton Field Around Here

I’m Sure There Was A Cotton Field Around Here

The farm was still that coved in water that the only way to get around was by boat, the old tinnie was getting a real work out traveling along the flooded channels while dodging the submerged cement structures and pipes. This was the only way we could get around to check the pumps that were essential to moving the water off the cotton fields and into the dams as some of the fields were completely under water. Between checking the pumps we were just working in the shed, taking care of the odd jobs that had built up over the year. After a couple of days we thought the farm may have dried up enough to start driving back around the farm, we were wrong; after a couple of kilometres we were bogged axle deep in the soft black soil. Luckily the whole farm has mobile reception so we were able to call for help and a tractor was soon on its way to pull us out and pull us around the farm for the rest of the bore run. Eventually it all dried out but the damage was done and were left with the aftermath.

Getting Around Moree Style!

Getting Around Moree Style!

The flood did a lot of damage dropping massive amounts of silt on the paddocks as well as knocking the squares (flowers) off the cotton that was growing in the river paddocks, levee banks were washed away but the most significant damage was done to a pump site by one of the dams. One of the large underground pipes had dropped a couple of inches and opened up a small gap, even though the gap was small the large amount of water  that ran though it had created a large hollow cavern which we only discovered when a bloke stood on top of it and the ground gave way beneath him. To fix it we had to dig out all around the pipe, jack it back up and support it in place while cement was poured around it encasing any remaining gaps. On the positive side on things all the dams on the farm were filled up including one that had only been full once before.

Big Problem, Big Hole

Big Problem, Big Hole

Shortly afterwards I went on a month long hike from Canberra to Bairnsdale in Victoria, after a month’s hiking I emerged from the bush and started talking to a person at the campsite we ended up at only to find out the Moree had been hit by another bigger flood.

Its A Bit Wet

Well its not flooding in Moree but its still very very wet and its making it a bit tricky to get around the farm or just get any where, including up the driveway where I had water go over the bonnet of my Holden ute (water wasn’t moving only risk was electronics failure and a short walk in the rain). By around lunch time today we’d had 100 millimetres of rain and counting but it seems to have stopped now, worried that it might keep raining and cut the road I made the mistake of going out to the farm to drop in my time sheet and then decided to stick around and take a few photos.  Three hours later I was still there.

I was tagging along with manager and the other two fellas who had came into work, water was backing up into the cotton fields and had to be moved quickly to stop water logging. It is a challenge that is a lot easier said then done as the backing up water wasn’t just from the rain falling on the fields and the farm but it was also from the water that was rushing across from the neighbouring property. Even with pumps going at full pace and the gates fully open water was still managing to run over the drop boxes and blow out some channels. The majority of gates are hand operated but some need a hydraulic pump that it run off the ute’s gear box, its a great help for opening some of the real big gates on the property. The water also made it a real challenge to get around.

Just going up the driveway was a big enough challenge with the mud and the neighbours run off giving my commodore a bit of trouble (again there was no danger even though it was fast flowing water it wasn’t deep and the only risk was getting bogged and a awkward phone call), but the commodore powered through and made it to the shed. When I got the shed I got it the old 1996 Toyota Hilux, its an old thing and really battled in spots to get through when the speedo was reading a very optimistic 30 kmph, the engine revving over 4000 rpm, steam coming off the bonnet and more smoke coming out the exhaust then a steam engine. We didn’t get bogged but there where a few close calls and we got very close to the edge of some channels at various times.

We eventually got all the gates set up and water was starting to drain, so as soon as we were back at the shed I jumped soaking wet into my ute and heading straight out the gate. With over 100 millimetres of rain we’ll be able to skip an irrigation so I’ll have a bit of spare time on my hands, I got a fair bit of video footage so I’ll probably try and put them together into some sort of video.

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GM Lets Get The Facts Right

Recently Mark Lynas, a leading environmentalist and leader in the campaign against Genetically Modified crops announced he had changed his position, he stated that he was wrong, mislead and was misguiding the public through the anti GM campaign. What made him change his mind? Science, he stated that science, peer reviewed papers and looking at the facts are what has changed his mind. So what is GM? What are the myths? What are the facts? And where does its negative image stem from?

In my opinion GM’s negative image stems from a lack of understanding, lack of reasoning and a bit of fear mongering. I remember GM being discussed at school as an ethical issue, the discussions always started with the notion of yes it can help feed the world and it can reduce chemical use but…. what if this or what if that, so the discussion always ended with GM was just us playing God, it was unsafe and we were probably going to create some mutate animal by mistake. The discussions had no fact behind them, just the reasoning of a child’s mind into which were sowed the seeds of doubt, about the safety, the ethics and the potential benefits  When really it couldn’t of being further from the truth, GM is the way forward, it has reduced insecticide use and has helped to produce better crops. So in detail lets look at what GM is.

A genetically modified organism is a organism that has had its genetic material modified, so what does modified mean and how long has this been going on. The modification of genetic material can be anything  from natural breeding and evolution to scientists splicing genes between plants, so its been going on forever. But how long have humans being involved in the process? Humans have been involved for for as long as we have been domesticating animals, we’ve been selecting and breeding the best varieties of crops for our use, so effectively all crops whether they are GM, conventional or organic have been genetically modified by humans. Now some people argue that when scientist start splicing genes it becomes unnatural, unsafe and we are playing God, but what we are actually doing is speeding up the process  and reducing variability. How this works is a few hundred years ago humans realised that if they kept seeds near radium the radium would cause mutations in the seeds and therefore the plant (although they didn’t know it at the time they were altering the plants DNA) creating a wide variety of plants, some where better others weren’t and in many there was no change. So this process was a real hit and miss affair, it was also very time consuming with many generations of plants often needed for the desired effect and it was also unsafe for the researchers. So that’s what GM is and where it started from, so lets look at some of the myths.

I’ll start by using cotton as an example, cotton has been a shinning example of what GM has to offer but a quick Google search will show you that there is still a lot of misconceptions about it. Number one being that nobody wants it and that growers are forced to have it, THIS IS WRONG conventional cotton seed is still readily available to growers but the reason why nearly 100% of the Australian cotton crop is GM is because of the benefits it offers to the growers, in fact GM cotton was even pirated and smuggled into India where it was banned because a farmers were that keen to use it. Myth number two is that it has caused an increase in pesticide use, THIS IS WRONG the use of Bollgard (Bt) GM  cotton has actually seen a reduction in pesticide use of over 80% in the last decade. Myth number three is that GM cotton has lead to an increase in weeds and weed resistance, although it is possible IT IS STILL WRONG. Let me explain, any weed or pest  can quite easily build up resistance to a control method if only one method of control is used, farmers have know this for many years before GM was about and have always used a variety of controls including physical, chemical and biological. Since the introduction of Roundup Ready cotton we are no different we still use other control methods along with herbicides (Roundup) to control weeds and avoid resistance. Roundup Ready cotton also has the added benefit of protecting farmers against spray drift (always read the label and never spray when conditions aren’t right) as you’ll see in the photo below with the Roundup Ready cotton on the left and conventional on the right. Myth number four is that GM is dangerous, THIS IS WRONG even after three billion GM meals have been eaten world wide there are still no links between it and any sort of disease or illness and on a side note while researching for this post I can across a article on a anti-GM website that stated that the use of GM cotton has caused mysterious rashes on growers and people who wear GM cotton (nearly everyone) THIS IS WRONG there is no evidence to suggest this has even occurred let alone a link to GM cotton and as I sit here typing I’m wearing underpants, shorts and shirt all made from GM cotton, combined with working all day around the GM cotton the only redness I have is sunburn (so remember slip, slop, slap  and stay safe in the sun).

Other myths surrounding GM crops include that terminator seeds prevent farmers from keeping seeds for next the season, while this is true naturally bred hybrid crops eliminated that option years before GM. Another myth is that mixing the genes of two totally different species such as a fish and a tomato is totally unnatural, but while the concept may raise a few eyebrows its totally natural and viruses do it all the time, the process is called gene flow. But I believe the most important misconception is that GM crops only benefits big corporations when really it doesn’t, in the end it benefits the farmers and the environment through lower inputs and reduced chemical use among other things.

GM is the future of cropping and is essential to meet the worlds rising food demands, so please go out there and spread the good word clear up the myths and misconceptions, tell the world why we need GM, why we want GM and why GM is the future but most importantly tell them that GM IS SAFE.

Feel free to comment if you have any questions.

To view Mark Lynas speech and apology click here

Spray damaged cotton GM is on the left conventional on the right

Spray damaged cotton GM is on the left conventional on the right

Checking The Probes

The moisture probes are critical to running of an irrigation property, they tell us how much water is in the soil profile, how much water the crop is using and most important it tells us when we need irrigate the cotton. There are a couple of types of moisture probes about; one type is a electrical probe that works by measuring the conductivity between two wires in the ground, the better the conductivity the more moisture.

The type of moisture probe we use is called a Neutron Moisture Probe we have been using it on the farm for years and find it to be simple and effective method, it works by lowering the probe down a aluminium tube in the ground, the probe then release fast neutrons which lose energy and slow down when they collide with hydrogen the slow neutrons are detected and give a reading. The probe then takes more readings at different depths to give a complete picture of the moisture profile, then once all readings are completed the probe is plugged into the computer which makes up a graph showing the moisture level, usage and how long till irrigation is needed, making managing the crop a whole lot easier. Unfortunately because it uses radiation the operator needs to be accredited so its usually done by the farm agronomist.

If you have any questions on the moisture probes or anything else just leave a comment.

For more amazing sights in the world of farming check out Farming Photo’s

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Putting Out Lick

Its been a long day putting out cattle lick around the station, we received forty eight tonnes of wet season lick three days ago and have been spending the last two days putting it out. It is essential to keeping the cattle healthy but  a long process but it not with without its draw backs it is a long process and the blocks have as habit of falling off the truck and with a weight of 100kg a block they are impossible to pick back up. In other news the rain held off and the truck made it through by lunch today and one turkey  nest has been completed and the other one has been started on. 

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We’ve spent the last week out at camp mustering, with reinforcements from others stations sent to give us a hand, two paddocks and five days later we’re back at the homestead and not a day too late, with it pouring down rain all over the station on the first night back. Camp was a great time with early breakfasts in time to see the sunrise and make an early start to cattle work while it was still cool instead of the 50 degrees it was in the middle of the day, during these  times of extreme heat and humidity its important to rest the cattle the men during the middle of the day so nothing or any body gets to hot or stressed leaving us with early mornings and late nights. The cattle are mustered with a chopper and a bike to either the cattle yards or a collection point from which they are walked to yards with a team of horsemen and bikes before being sorted and walked back to their paddocks, it can be a long and stressful but the rewards are worth it. 

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And The Rain Came Down

The skies have opened up over Humbert bringing down the rain and bringing the wet season to us, although we only got a small shower at the homestead the rain was huge a little further down the road. Turning the roads into rivers and causing the creeks to flow, all this water made it extremely slippery to drive about. All of this caused me to slip into the dam while trying to rescue a cow getting me axle deep bogged, after trying to drive out myself I eventually had to call the homestead to be pulled out and rescued. Tomorrows bore run should be interesting. 

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Its been a very hot and humid week on Humbert not the sort of weather you want to paving in, but its a job that’s got to be done so it will. Unfortunately we haven’t had any more rain even though the clouds continue to hover overhead, on my last bore run I was seeing huge flocks of black cockatoos everywhere I went. Black cockatoos are supposed to be a sign of rain to come, hopefully its true as the station could do with some greening up.

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Keeping Up The Essentials

The last two days have been busy on Humbert, we’ve been on bore runs and putting out cattle lick, with the weather starting to heat up the cattle are drinking more water than ever and were now running the pumps continually just to keep up. Were also putting out more cattle lick than before, the cattle lick gives the cattle extra nutrients such as protein which are lacking in the dry pasture. Clouds have returned to the skies above Humbert, a sure sign that the build up has begun. The potty calves are doing well, their getting bigger and now  feeding well on the feeder.

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