Northern Beef Development project

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development's former Northern Beef Futures (NBF) project aimed to transform Western Australia’s northern beef industry through market diversity and improved business models, and integrated supply chains. It was supported by Royalties for Regions.


Northern Beef Futures (NBF) was an export supply chain-focused, market-driven project delivered by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, formerly known as the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA).

The project was focused on enabling the WA beef industry to boost capabilities, build value and strengthen relationships within new and existing supply chains and diversify and align products to suit new and expanding markets identified by NBF.

The NBF project commenced in August 2014 and ceased in its existing format on 31 October 2017.

The Northern Beef Development project, consolidated in 2018, aims to boost the productivity of production, processing and distribution to create a stronger, more profitable beef industry to meet this growing demand for products.

The project is part of the department’s integrated approach to building a stronger agriculture and food sector in WA’s north to support local job growth and economic prosperity for regional communities.

What's new?

Business Improvement Grant program testimonial booklet 

The Northern Beef Development project's Business Improvement Grant (BIG) program, commenced in 2015 as part of the Northern Beef Futures progrect with the aim of helping to improve the performance and resilience of northern beef businesses.

A 2017 review of northern beef activities revealed the BIG program was of great value to industry and achieving tangible results, and positive impacts and change.

The $1.125 million program supported 48 pastoral enterprises, including 12 Indigenous enterprises, to seek expert advice, and develop a formal business plan as Part 1 of the program.

Part 2 of the program enabled BIG program participants to implement the priority business improvement identified in their business plan and benchmark their performance, as captured in the testimonial booklet.

The program is providing positive trends in business performance, key performance data across industry and insights into industry issues, and evidence of positive cultural change.

Pastoralists tell stories about their experiences with the BIG program

The department has captured the program’s success via industry level benchmarking data, regional benefits through expenditure on goods and services on consultancy and innovation, and via testimonials, case studies, workshops and short videos.

The first booklet of testimonials includes:

  • Background on the booklet by department development officer Mariah Maughan, who travels vast distances to work closely with BIG program participants.
  • Pastoralists from four very different enterprises outlining the situation on their station, how they used the BIG program to benefit their business, and provide advice for other pastoralists, and
  • Economic modelling results on stand and graze versus cut and carry forage system.

The stories, using the pastoralists’ own words, demonstrate the ability of northern beef industry participants to seize new opportunities and technologies, and learn about different station management practices that could benefit them and support the entire industry through knowledge sharing.

Business Improvement Grants testimonial cover
The BIG testimonial booklet includes stories from pastoralists’ that demonstrate the ability of northern beef industry participants to seize new opportunities and technologies, and learn about different station management practices that could benefit them and support the entire industry through knowledge sharing.

Sterile leucaena research attracts international support 

A group of international researchers has thrown its support behind WA scientists in their quest to develop a high value feed for the State’s northern cattle industry.

The researchers  shared their experience to support the department's feasibility studies to breed a sterile leucaena variety as a valuable forage plant with a significantly reduced weed risk.

The project is laying the groundwork to develop a commercial variety that can advance WA’s northern beef industry.

Leucaena has proven to be highly-nutritious cattle feed in Queensland and Central America, where it originated, however it is not approved for use on pastoral leasehold land in Western Australia due to its risk of becoming a weed.

For this reason, it is also prohibited from being grown in other parts of the world, such as parts of Hawaii and cleared lands in the Amazonian regions of Peru, Colombia and Brazil.

Colombia researcher Mauricio Sotelo, of the International Centre of Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), is watching the project with interest after taking part in a two-day workshop in Perth in December.

Dr Sotelo was enthused about the potential development of a sterile forage leucaena variety which could have economic and environmental benefits.

"Leucaena without seeds would be a game-changer in Colombia because it could allow the tropical forests where leucaena is prohibited to be cultivated, making deforested lands productive again, mitigating the pressure on the forest and improving conditions for livestock,” he said.

Professor Donovan Bailey from New Mexico State University, and Dr Charles Sorensson, formerly of the University of Hawaii, have shared their expertise regarding artificial hybridisation of leucaenas, molecular support for breeding and species that may be appropriate in the breeding program.

According to Dr Sorensson, the goal of developing a seedless leucaena is most likely to be achieved in Western Australia because of a seamless combination of need, scientific knowledge and capital.

“If Australia cracks the nut, it will have ramifications across the globe,” Dr Sorensson said.

The opportunity to hear from national and international scientists and industry to guide the project was extremely valuable.

The input of Western Australian and Queensland cattle industries, leucaena breeders, forage scientists and tropical agriculture researchers has been critical for developing project breeding objectives and looking at issues relating to variety commercialisation and adoption.

The department has also been able to gain access to plant germplasm, molecular breeding technologies and research collaboration.

The feasibility study is exploring several strategies to breed a sterile leucaena by applying novel breeding and molecular technologies. Given the time scale of plant breeding programs, a commercial product is not anticipated until well into the next decade.  

The currentl focus is on sourcing seed for a large range of leucaena species and preparing field sites in the northern rangelands for the establishment of leucaena adaptation studies.

The sterile leucaena project is jointly funded by the WA Government, MLA Donor Company and the University of QLD.

The following presentations are available from the sterile leucaena workshop:

Leucaena workshop group, Dec 2017
Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development senior research officers Clinton Revell, front row on left, and Daniel Real, second row on right, showed participants at the recent leucaena breeding and development workshop differences in leucaena variety growth in the glasshouse.

Other activities:

Backgrounding beef for benefit

The department's Northern Beef Futures (NBF) project collaborated with industry groups to evaluate returns from the value-added beef method of backgrounding cattle. Backgrounding in WA's agricultural region improves marketing and finishing opportunities, providing improved access to live export markets and opportunities for grain producers in the south of the State to feedlot cattle for entry into southern domestic processors. 

Market Analyst Roger Verbrugge discussed gross margins for backgrounding cattle and various sheep enterprises at an event hosted by West Midlands Group on 'Unravelling the economics of beef backgrounding' in February 2017.

The latest project news and information is available by subscribing to NBF newsletter.  

Key activities

New markets and supply chains

Export market growth is one of the drivers of beneficial change throughout the supply chain, which leads to increased business performance, confidence and industry value.

The creation of new supply chains was supported by broadening products, production systems and markets, and employing a market-pull approach to enable the WA beef industry to fulfil potential new export markets identified by NBF, including:

  • commercial breeder exports to ASEAN markets
  • live exports of feeder and slaughter cattle to a range of ASEAN markets and China
  • boxed beef exports to China
  • off-shore processing of slaughter-ready cattle
  • other emerging strategic target market opportunities.

NBF also identified new supply chain business models and supporting mechanisms that will provide new diversified market opportunities for northern beef in China and the ASEAN region.

Value growth and innovation in the beef industry supply chain

A study to identify critical success factors from a number of global and domestic agrifood industry growth models that could contribute to international export competitiveness and grow the value and long-term sustainability of WA’s northern beef industry was completed.

The study 'Value Growth & Innovation in the Beef Industry' supply chain was presented at the Kimberley Economic Forum in  November 2016 and outlined four high-level WA beef supply chain scenarios for consideration by WA’s northern beef supply chain and investors.

Target market:  China

The department has agreements with key provincial governments in China, and support is being provided from the WA Trade & Investment Office in Shanghai to assist and facilitate export.

The NBF project team worked to develop exports of live cattle and boxed beef from Western Australia, and profiled Chinese investment into the Australian agribusiness sector is underway.

We engaged in supply chain mapping and modelling of the various components of the live export and boxed beef value chains through to China as part of a study that will provide greater transparency and understanding of the value chain.

In April 2016, we hosted a delegation who took a closer look at WA's cattle production and export potential, with a view to importing boxed beef, and feeder and slaughter cattle from our State.  We also hosted delegations in September 2016.

We continue to provide links between members of the WA supply chain and commercial interests in China and industry information to assist Chinese business and provincial governments interested in developing this trade.

Target market:  Thailand

Northern Beef Futures officers with staff from the Thailand Board of Investment.

To capitalise on Thailand’s respected global reputation for food processing, packaging and distribution, a prefeasibility study to consider new and innovative supply chains for WA cattle and boxed beef in one or more of the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in Thailand was completed.

The summary, 'New and Innovative Beef Supply Chains in Thailand', considers the potential industry benefits of diverting existing live export cattle into a dedicated supply chain featuring leading technology and best management practice.  The report is available in English and Thai language versions.

We are conducting a review of the potential supply of ‘productive heifers’ from northern WA to target markets in Indonesia and Thailand for the purpose of cattle breeding projects, and a trial consignment is being investigated. The's NBF project is engaging with proprietory companies and government agencies to implement these projects.

In Thailand, we are implementing the framework to undertake a feeder/slaughter pilot project to determine the performance of various genetic compositions of WA cattle in the Thailand feedlot industry.

This project will improve our understanding of WA cattle performance in the Thailand feedlot sector and lead to more objective selection of cattle best suited for  conditions in that country.

Target Market:  Vietnam

In Vietnam, we have wored with significant enterprises to consider the export of commercial heifers for genetic improvement and to rebuild commercial breeder herds.

We worked with commercial interests seeking diversified production models and key importers of WA cattle to improve after-sales service, ensuring support for a significant new feedlot and abattoir development as part of an integrated supply chain in Vietnam.

We conducted site visits in Vietnam to progress integrated supply chains, and in December 2015 participated in a regional workshop in Vietnam on Beef Markets and Trade in South-East Asia and China.

This provided NBF with specific local market information, situation analyses and critical issues for the beef cattle markets and trade flows within the South East Asia and China region, assisting us to work with industry to identify market and specific product opportunities in the region.

The department's NBF project team, with the support of the WA beef industry, is working on the development of a new market and supply chain assessment tool to evaluate the potential of emerging live export markets. This will provide a needs-based assessment of the requirements of potential new markets to implement approved supply chains.


Contact information

Mark Ritchie
+61 (0)8 9780 6263
Page last updated: Tuesday, 22 May 2018 - 3:56pm


Clinton Revell
Mariah Maughan