Teton Talks: Sourcing Beef – Australia Highlight

Sourcing from ranches that share the same animal welfare and environmental morals as we do is a top priority. After much research, Teton Waters Ranch found ourselves across the globe in the open meadows of an Australian farm. We were completely in awe of their agriculture processes, health of their cattle and beauty of the farm. Our minds were set at ease as we quickly found out that this farm was exactly what we were looking for. While sourcing 100% grass-fed and finished beef from across the globe may seem out of the way, we made sure to double check that the process was sustainable to continue supporting the high demand of our products in the United States. 

We were lucky enough to interview Jamie, an Australian Farmer, to gain an inside perspective of his farm. In 1985, the farm was founded as the farmers began to buy acres and develop them into agricultural land. This location is extremely unique, “located on the far NW coast of Tasmania…the air is some of the cleanest in the world and the climate is temperate” (Jamie, Australian Farmer). The environmental conditions of their surrounding area allow the farm to successfully grow grass year round and let their cattle roam without having to be housed – sounds like paradise! In addition to the great agricultural conditions of their land, the Australian farm values animal welfare just as much as we do. Jamie stated, “As a beef producer we are responsible for the health and wellbeing of our animals. It is important that producers know how to raise their cattle humanely and that consumers can be certain that this has taken place. A standardized program like Certified Humane ensures that these needs are met.” Third party verified commitment to the welfare of the cattle is a standard that must be met by all our partnered ranches.

Teton Waters Ranch’s VP of Operations, Ethan Chutkow, shed light on why we source from Australia. Continue reading to learn more:

What made TWR consider sourcing from Australia?From our years managing our ranch in Teton Valley, Idaho, we learned of the different grazing practices worldwide, and the different approaches to land management with cattle, depending on the climate.  Much of the literature discussed beef grazing practices in Australia, South America, and elsewhere. So, when it came time to find more beef from cattle managed in the TWR way, we cross-referenced the list of places worldwide where we knew appropriate grazing already took place with where it rains year-round.  In retrospect, that was perhaps a very simplistic way to approach a search, but in reality, those are the criteria to this day that still make for the best beef for TWR. To be precise, we focused our search on very southern Australia and Tasmania, where rainfall is abundant. We also spent some time in New Zealand assessing that supply. 

What are Australian farms practicing that is different from farms in the United States?The first major difference between the US beef industry and most all other regions worldwide is that the US is inundated with affordable, government subsidized grain. The bulk of this is corn and soy.  The government subsidy makes this grain artificially cheap to US cattle ranchers and ends up making it the most profitable way to grow beef cattle here domestically. In other countries, grain comes at a premium and ends up being a more costly input for cattle production.  In fact, on my first trip to Australia, I remember going to a restaurant in Melbourne that featured a whole array of steaks. The most expensive and most marbled steaks were touted on the menu as “grain finished.” Sometimes, even, “finished on grain for 65 days.” They tout that because it is usually directly related to how much marbling is in the steak. But the grain is expensive there, so they limit how much grain they feed an animal.  So, taking a step back from this, you realize that farmers in parts of Australia where the grasses are nutritious and abundant, like in Tasmania, have no incentive to ever “cheat” by feeding their cattle grain, because it is more expensive to do so. That is the opposite of what we see here.

What does the shipment process from Australia to the United States look like? Is it environmentally sustainable to continue?The environmental impact of sourcing beef from Australia is one of the biggest obstacles that we faced when making our decision. In fact, it was one that our team grappled with for quite a while. We knew this meant we would be contributing to our carbon footprint by shipping beef to the US, something we took into a large consideration. In order to gain an educated perspective on the environmental impact of sourcing from down under, we completed a carbon footprint analysis of sourcing from Tasmania. I was thinking this would be a deal-breaker for us, but I was wrong. It turns out that the efficiency of ocean freight equated to lower total carbon emissions than some of the beef we were sourcing in the US! That’s because ranches in the US are much more spread out, and the cattle often have to travel much longer distances to get to wintering pastures (not all cattle can stay on the same ranch year-round as they can in Tasmania), or to the processing facility. Also, ranchers in the US often use more tractors and other equipment to manage the cattle and the land, which contributes to the higher carbon footprint of domestic beef.  We concluded that sourcing domestically and helping domestic producers scale to meet the growing demand for real grass-fed beef would be our continued priority, but that we would happily supply this demand in the interim with the very finest grass-fed beef from the southern hemisphere. 

Why has TWR’s relationship with their Australian supplier been so consistent over the years?The supply we’ve found in Southern Australia and Tasmania is in perfect alignment with what informed and discerning US consumers are seeking in their beef. Teton Waters Ranch is working to satisfy consumer demand for this beef with transparency, quality, and consistency. And we’re growing as a company to meet the growing demand. The producers we partner with in Australia are thrilled with this growth and appreciate that we are telling their story.  So much Australian beef comes into the US and is relabeled as “Product of USA” in a move to deceive consumers into thinking the product comes from domestic cattle. This is not acceptable to us, and we are fighting this practice. We believe consumers have the right to make their own decisions.  If a consumer’s top priority is to eat beef that was raised within 100 miles of their home, they should prioritize that.  However, not everyone lives in areas where grass-fed beef can be raised in that proximity, or at least not year-round. We want to provide consumers with access to great tasting 100% grass-fed beef that is raised what we believe to be the “right” way. Raised in a way the provides the nutritional benefits the consumer is looking for in addition to knowing it was done in the best way for the animal and the land. By sharing the stories of our ranchers we partner with consumers can learn more about their practices and why we work with them. The ranchers also are proud to tell their story and enjoy connecting with the consumer. A win-win for everyone.  

To learn more specifics about the ranches we source from, explore our interactive sourcing map.