Corowa beef farmer says traceability and genetics have changed the industry

Published: February 2020 I By: Joanna Webber

NSW Farmers’ Cattle Committee chair Derek Schoen works with beef farmers on everything from animal welfare, biosecurity and market access to research and development.

Derek Schoen on his property Killeneen, Corowa NSW. Source: Simon Bayliss.
SINCE handing the Association’s reigns to James Jackson 18 months ago, NSW Farmers’ former president Derek Schoen has had his hands full. 

Among other roles, Derek is NSW Farmers’ Cattle Committee chair and a director of the National Farmers’ Federation, AgStewardship Australia and the Australian Farmers’ Shared Services. 

In August 2018 he stepped up to spearhead the monitoring of freight prices during the drought as the state’s Drought Transport Subsidy Integrity Advisor. He was recently appointed a director of mental health charity Beyond Blue.

Killeneen, the 2,000-hectare property near Corowa where Derek lives with his wife Leanne, son Murk and daughter-in-law Kate, also keeps him busy. While the day-to-day running of the mixed-farming enterprise is left to Murk and Kate, Derek is still very involved.

“Our cattle operation is three-pronged,” he says. “We do a lot of embryo surrogacy, then we have commercial cattle, and we also buy a lot of cattle, feedlot them, and send them direct to the abattoir.”

Derek grew up on his parents’ dairy farm in the Yarra Valley, until the family purchased Killeneen in 1974, when he was 14. He first started trading cattle at the Wodonga Saleyards in the early 1980s.

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“The quality of stock is a lot better now than it was then,” he says. “During the Seventies and Eighties it was very saleyard orientated, but now a greater number of cattle are directly consigned to abattoirs. There’s more certainty now. You’re not just reliant on the price on the day, so you can lock in a price.”

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Traceability and genetics have also changed the industry. “When I first started there were wraparound tail tags, then the electronic ear tags came in,” says Derek. “The higher level of traceability we have today offers far greater security for our international markets. Breeders can now predict the gender of offspring, too, or use EBVs [estimated breeding values], so genetics has also made an enormous difference.”

Derek Schoen is passing down generations of knowledge onto daughter in-law Katie. 

His work on NSW Farmers’ Cattle Committee deals with everything from animal welfare and biosecurity to access to market, research and development. Key issues on the agenda include the Meat Industry Strategic Plan 2020 (MISP), and the review of the Red Meat Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

“MISP provides an overarching strategy for the Australian red-meat and livestock industry, and the MoU is about the way the industry is governed and how it operates with the peak industry councils and the Red Meat Advisory Council,” says Derek. “We want to make sure the industry is well represented.”

Keeping Australia free from foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is another major concern. “It’s important to educate prominent people within the industry so that if FMD ever does emerge we can minimise the damage,” he says.
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“We regularly visit countries that have the disease to get a first-hand perspective on how to manage an outbreak, should it happen. But our first line of defence is to have strategies in place that ensure it never gets here.”  

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