Northern Beef Futures

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


Northern Beef Futures (NBF) is 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 is 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 on 31 October 2017. The project was designed to:

  • increase the value of production from the Pilbara and Kimberley beef industry
  • reduce reliance on current markets, through the establishment of alternate, economically viable export markets for beef and live cattle
  • boost employment in the northern cattle industry by increasing profitability.

What's new?

Sterile leucaena project commences in WA 

The Western Australian Government has supported an innovative national research project to evaluate the potential for sterile leucaena in the Pilbara and Kimberley.

The project will be delivered in WA by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s Northern Beef Futures (NBF) project.

The $2.3 million project has been jointly funded over 3.5 years by the WA Government, in collaboration with the MLA Donor Company and the University of Queensland.

Leucaena is a fast growing, highly palatable legume forage shrub with high feed value that is often planted in hedgerows, with perennial grass in between, and grazed directly by beef cattle.

It is one of the most financially attractive options for improving the profitability of beef production in the 600-800mm rainfall zone in Central Queensland and could have significant potential for enhancing production in WA’s northern beef industry.

Many pastoralists in WA are keen to use leucaena after seeing its potential in Queensland but it is currently prohibited from being cultivated on pastoral leasehold, due to its high risk of becoming an environmental weed in northern WA.

In this project, NBF researchers will select the best methodology for the breeding program and create the first generation of material.

Controlled field sites will be established in the Kimberley and Pilbara, targeting both irrigated and dryland production, to assess a range of leucaena germplasm for possible inclusion in the breeding program.

Further funding will be required to develop and test the product in readiness for commercialisation. 

A sterile leucaena outcome could have application far beyond Western Australia - both nationally and internationally.

Senior research officers Clinton Revell and Daniel Real will evaluate and define a breeding and commercialisation strategy as part of a project to develop a sterile leucaena that would benefit the northern beef industry in WA.
Senior research officers Clinton Revell and Daniel Real will evaluate and define a breeding and commercialisation strategy as part of a project to develop a sterile leucaena that would benefit the northern beef industry in WA.

Rangelands irrigated fodder research displayed

Pastoralists, agribusiness and Water Corporation representatives joined Northern Beef Futures project staff in Broome at a field walk of ongoing fodder production research based on centre pivot irrigation systems.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s research into irrigated fodder production in the Kimberley and Pilbara aims to improve supply chain value and meet market specification to support the competitiveness of the northern beef industry.

The mosaic agriculture research, located just north of Broome, is focused on species for hay production and direct grazing, and includes a range of annual and perennial tropical grasses, temperate annual grasses, and legumes.

The trials are sampled at different cutting times over the wet and dry seasons to measure regrowth and feed quality. The first measurements, taken recently, showed all varieties had established well and revealed good growth and feed quality.

The field walk provided an opportunity for participants to see the performance of different varieties in the field, at different stages of growth, and hear about their feed quality.

The trials, located at the Water Corporation’s Broome North Wastewater Treatment Plant, enable intensive measurement of plant growth and feed quality and provide a range of benchmarking data.

This collaborative arrangement provides the department with a site close to the Broome office and the Water Corporation receives specialised advice on its irrigation management decisions.

This type of cross-department collaboration is a good example of the efficient use of public resources for industry and community benefit.

Water Corporation Regional Manager North West, Rino Trolio, said Broome North was the only site in Australia where recycled water was used to grow Rhodes grass for the cattle industry.

Proceeds raised by the sale of Rhodes grass funded community projects through the Water Corporation’s West Kimberley Community Grants Scheme.

The department project is supported by Royalties for Regions and the project’s mosaic agriculture research is co-funded by the MLA Donor Company.

Rangelands irrigated fodder research displayed in Broome for stakeholders and industry.
Rangelands irrigated fodder research displayed in Broome for stakeholders and industry.

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: Thursday, 22 February 2018 - 6:03pm