IT’S not only overseas consumers who are prepared to pay a premium for top quality produce with the right back story – there’s a growing market for it in New Zealand, a Hawke’s Bay farmer says.
Matangi Angus Beef farm manager Jamie Gaddum says there is a domestic market of people who are passionate about eating good meat and will pay for the best they can get.
He said Matangi Angus has customers who are so enthusiastic about their meat they contact them to find out what the marble scores were on their most recent animals killed and ask about what is coming up that will be available to order.
Matangi’s sole focus is on the domestic market, which came about after Austrian-based owner Robert Haselsteiner discovered that he could not find beef in NZ as good as what he could get at home.
“He wanted to produce the best possible beef for the local market because he felt he couldn’t get in NZ what he was getting at home in Austria and Germany,” Gaddum said.
“He wanted to say, ‘all that good stuff that’s going overseas, let’s keep it here and supply the best to customers in NZ’.
“I think a lot of people really appreciate that, they ring us up and say that they can’t get these cuts anywhere else.”
Matangi’s focus on eating quality runs through every aspect of its operation, from breeding through to on-farm management.
They only sell beef from cattle born and raised on the property, giving customers full traceability from conception through to consumption.
“When we select breeding characteristics, we look for the intramuscular fats and eye muscle area which are in the top 1% for the Angus breed,” he said.
“That gives us the foundation for top marbling and beautifully textured beef.”
He said they work closely with Rissington Cattle Company to make sure they get the best genetics and, after starting in 2016 with 60 dams selected for their breeding values, Matangi has slowly increased the size of the herd, with the aim to have no more than 150 breeding cows and their calves.
“I think that’s the sweet spot,” he said.
“We’re trying to run a sustainable business. We don’t want to be overstocking the farm.
“We just want to be boutique.”
To help ensure consistent beef quality, he keeps comprehensive records on the stock’s genomic makeup and lifetime data.
Ultimately though, everything starts with the soil.
“There are three big environmental initiatives for us, which are soil health, water quality and animal health,” he said.
“These key factors have to be harmoniously balanced, with soil as the starting point.
“Having healthy microbiology in our soils helps give us clean water, healthy plants and ultimately healthy animals.”
Fertiliser application during the last five years is down to less than a quarter of what it was, with herbage and soil testing carried out to make sure pasture quality is maintained.
“It’s been an interesting journey, an ongoing thing.
“People talk about regenerative agriculture and it’s really hard to define exactly what that means but we’re learning, and our systems are changing to suit what the soil wants.”
He says rotational grazing plays an important role in the farming operation, keeping stock on soil for the shortest amount of time possible.
A key part of stock management is a focus on minimising animal stress.
“When an animal is stressed the pH can rise, which makes the meat darker and tougher,” he said.
“Our goal is to make the life of our stock as stress-free as possible, so they stay in small, familiar groups throughout the lifecycle.
“Time in yards is minimised and we avoid loud noises – (for example) using only heading dogs, which don’t bark.
“And they (cattle) stay with their mates from when they are weaned right through until they are ready to be harvested.”
Meat is sold online through the farm’s website, with Gaddum’s wife Nicky handling customer service.
The aim is to have up to about 1000 regular customers, with sales organised in advance through a limited seasonal run of eight months.
“We’re not worried that we can’t sell meat all year-round. We’d like to provide to everyone, but we’re a boutique business and we want to be sought-after, that’s our goal,” he said, adding they are not interested in the export market.
“That’s not our focus. We want to produce to a client base that we know is here in NZ, that’s enough for us,” he said.
“We’re excited to do that.”