AS of this month, the North East is home to a new beef co-operative.
Mitta Valley Beef Co-op was officially formed on February 4, with a membership base that is expected to include up to 20 families from the local area.
Almost 12 months in the making, the Mitta Valley Beef Co-op will herald a new approach to farming for those in the North East – with prices guaranteed in three month blocks.
The brainchild of Robyn and John Scales, the co-operative started off as a modest farming operation.
“We initially wanted to sell wholesale carcasses direct to market,” Robyn said.
“But we were approached by a local butcher, who asked for six beasts a week.
“We couldn’t supply the six beasts year round; we knew there were other families in the valley that could help, but we also knew we had to maintain the quality.
“It was at that point that we thought we need to set up a proper group.”
The Scales family are fifth generation farmers, and run 300 Hereford cows on their property, Banimboola, in the Mitta Valley.
Keen members of the Mitta Valley Landcare, they have always appreciated their lush riverside grazing – and the quality it produces.
“A trip to a feedlot several years ago convinced us that 100 per cent grass fed beef was the way to go,” Robyn said.
“More than 80 per cent of the beef in supermarkets comes from cattle that have been fattened on grain in a feedlot; those cattle become unnecessarily stressed, and are subjected to unnatural, often unethical conditions.”
It is this passion for quality grass-fed beef that has seen interest in forming a Mitta Valley cooperative sky-rocket.
Working informally for the last 12 months, some 18 families have already sold beef through the group.
“As a cooperative, we can offer a guaranteed over the hooks price,” Robyn said.
“The kill cost and freight is worn by us – about $120 per beast – but the rest goes back to the producer.
“There are no agent’s fees, no commission costs and no saleyard fees.”
Membership costs $500 per share, with a minimum joining entry of two shareholders and an annual membership fee of $200.
Other guidelines, formally adopted at the meeting this month, include:
- beef must be produced in the Mitta Valley;
- beef must be produced by a farming family – no large corporations are to be included in the co-op;
- beef must be strictly grass/hay fed – no grain;
- no growth hormones or antibiotics to be used; and
- quality of all beef must be assured.
“These cattle are coming from family farms, grazing lush green pastures, and they are completely natural; it makes for a great product,” Robyn said.
“Now that the co-operative is formed, our plan is to employ someone who will go and check the animals, making sure they are at the correct weight – they will also organise any freight, marketing and, hopefully, will be able to expand our customer market.”
In the last 12 months, the informal Mitta Valley Beef Co-op has sold more than 300 steers.
To guarantee year-round supply, a number of producers with an autumn crop program have also come on board.
“We have producers who put in autumn crops, and they put their animals there to get up to 400 kilos out of season,” Robyn said.
“As a group, we produced all through last May to September with farmers that have crops on the river – we hope to expand that further as our market expands.”
Right now, Mitta Valley Beef is sold exclusively through Beazley Meats in Wodonga.
Long term, the group hopes to expand to include other produce and also move into Melbourne markets – with a number of offers already on the table from boutique butchers.
“From a buyer’s point of view, Mitta Valley Beef offers butchers quality beef, guaranteed year round,” Robyn said.
“From a farmer’s point of view, the co-operative offers locked in prices, sold on-farm with very few add-on costs.
“It’s a win-win situation.”
You can read more about the Mitta Valley Beef Co-op on their Facebook page of the same name.