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|Ten years ago I was honoured to be selected as a national judge for the delicious. Produce Awards. I have served on that panel ever since and been privileged to meet and get to know many of Australia’s best producers. There is no doubt the program has been a game changer in terms of fostering sustainable food production practices in our country.
Australia’s wagyu producers were amongst our very first ‘from the paddock’ entrants. The stellar produce from David Blackmore was already familiar to most of the judges and in our blind tastings it continually ranked No. 1.
Blackmore had pioneered the production of 100% full-blood wagyu in Australia and had imported more than 80% of the wagyu genetics into this country. His wagyu herd grazed the green pastures and river plains of the high country near Alexandra, was bred, fed and marketed by Blackmore and exported to 14 countries.
David Blackmore had already made inroads in developing an environmentally sustainable supply chain, following a natural slow production process that took 4 years to complete. His innovative approach had already led to best practices beyond the requirements of Australian regulatory bodies in the areas of animal welfare, land quality and water efficiency.
Wagyu being part of the delicious. Produce Awards was not without controversy. There was much debate among the judges and in fact among the industry as to whether wagyu production with its intensive feeding approach could meet the required sustainability protocols of the Produce Awards.
|In 2007 after previously winning his category on several occasions, David Blackmore was named Producer of the Year and became the inaugural member of the Produce Awards Hall of Fame for setting new benchmarks in innovation.
Blackmore had, however, heard the various concerns raised over wagyu farming and was determined to do more, all the while stilling naysayer suggestions that further sustainability improvements would stall growth and be detrimental to the herd. He set about creating a new single standard that could set a new benchmark for on-farm feeding and animal production.
|He removed the wagyu animals from a feedlot environment to his own farm where they continued to be grown sustainably. Raised on their mothers until they were weaned his animals had access to pasture and were fed a supplementary non grain ration for 600+ days. The ration was made from natural commodities that are by-products of human food production.
With 25 animals per 5 acre paddock Blackmore’s rejection of a feedlot environment for his cattle and a return to their natural pastures meant he now had control over the environment in which the animals were raised and control over their humane management and welfare. Blackmores eco-feeding® standard implemented the maximum best practise standards for animal production, once again far exceeding industry requirements.
Needless to say all this innovation was costly. Considerable investment was made. And the quality of the product and the well-being of the herd? If at all possible Blackmore’s beef became even better and his herd visibly thrived. I was privileged to cook with his product in NYC at two events promoting Victorian produce. It was brilliantly received.
In 2013 Blackmore was named Legend by the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. The Legends Program honours people, who have given a lifetime of passion and outstanding dedication to the food and wine industry and celebrates professionals who have enriched and contributed to the vibrant food and wine culture through making a significant difference to the way the industry operates. It would seem that there was much to celebrate – stellar globally acclaimed produce and benchmarking global sustainable best practice. It was with considerable disbelief that I learnt yesterday that David Blackmore has given up his fight and withdrawn his application before Victoria’s planning minister to continue farming his way. Blackmore will in fact cease farming and his prize herd will be moved interstate.
What fight you might well ask? Newly arrived neighbours and a government that seems out of touch with best practice sustainable agribusiness have combined to create a prolonged and seemingly unwinnable battle despite petitions from many of Blackmore’s supporters. A lack of vision, no eye for innovative practice and the inevitable ensuing red tape have broken the back of yet another enterprising innovative farming concern. Victoria punches far above its weight in food production it also has the potential to lead the world in innovative best practice sustainable small scale agriculture.
We need the Blackmores of this world. I’m deeply saddened and troubled by this turn of events. If this, rather than accolades is the reward for great personal investment and innovative thinking then we’re truly doomed .
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