Traditional values with a modern mentality
Adaptable, flexible, and ambitious, Hewitt Cattle Australia represents the collective efforts of a family dedicated to the future of the Australian Beef Industry. Founded in 1987 by Colin & Linda Hewitt, the business’ original stock of 1,500 cattle soon grew as the enterprise began to expand. After making their first move in 1989, the Hewitt’s subsequently sold the land in 1994 in order to purchase what would become Pony Hills, a 56,000 acre breeding and fattening property located 50 kilometres east of Injun e. Since their first major expansion, what was then known as Hewitt Cattle Company has aggressively expanded throughout the Central and Northern Queensland regions, and currently operates across seven different locations, with 30,000 cattle over 200,000 hectares of land. At present, the company’s herd is predominantly aimed towards the export markets. Livestock is fattened for sale via both grass and grain feeding, with primary targets being the Japanese and Korean premium market, as well as the American restaurant sectors. Recent growth in demand for protein from the Asian region has the company now eyeing further markets access opportunities which 12 months earlier did not exist in the neighboring regions. While trading conditions are very difficult at present, the company believes it is entering an exciting period of growth due to these emerging markets.
At present, one of the key areas HCA are focusing on is genetic selection and control, with the aim of producing the correct article in terms of specification of carcass and eating quality. “Through a strong management focus on combining genetic selection with high quality pastures, we always aim to exceed specifications, or what we call ‘hitting the top of the grid’ in terms of the payment structures that operate through the Australian processing works,” explains Colin’s son, and HCA Director, Mick Hewitt. “Since 1994, we’ve been very strong with trying to consistently make the grid specification with our cattle,” adds Colin. Managing a large herd across an even larger land mass is challenging at the best of times however HCA aim to keep supply and quality consistent.
The company is strictly a primary producer. “We produce to supply our processors,” says Mick. Their main consumer is JBS Swift, a Brazilian-based multinational group. The team has also experienced great success in the seed stock space, which traditionally provides genetic supply into the stock of other producers in the industry, enhancing their own herds through access to the superior genetics.
Over the span of his career, Colin Hewitt has owned and operated two of the largest single brand breed stud herds in the country; the first being Charvel Herefords, and more recently, Fairhaven Droughtmasters. The first was Colin’s passion as a young entrepreneur which he built from the ground up setting many records along the way including the purchase of the then super sire Courallie Monte Carlo for $100,000 in 1987, an Australia record at the time. Colin went on to set many industry benchmarks across both breeds. More recently Colin topped the National Droughtmasters Sale with the sale of two elite sires both selling for $52,500 each. The company’s commercial beef operation has gained recognition through many competitions at major national shows, as well as through their strong general industry reputation. They have also become a well-known brand internationally, selling genetics including embryos to over 10 countries.
One of HCA’s most recent business advances has been through the implementation of sophisticated new software, which was rolled out last year. Now well entrenched throughout the organisation is Stockit, a program created by the Australian based Livestock Exchange. The program aims to leverage off the national cattle electronic ear-tagging scheme, collecting the performance data of those livestock per property in order for site managers to make improved management decisions based on true data as opposed to assumptions. “We are ultimately aiming to use animal-specific data to assist with management of particular herds however we are interested in collecting and understanding the broader data around kilos gained per hectare per day,” Mick explains. “It’s really going to assist in identifying the true performance of our assets.” Colin also explains he intends to use the information gained from this program in conjunction with the HCA’s genetics division to maximize their stock’s potential. “We firmly believe in the future that evaluation of assets will be based on true available data, and not so much assumption. That’s been one of our major focuses over the last 18 months.”
The company has been looking to move away from the traditional specific production business, opening themselves up to the opportunities available through partnerships within the global beef market. “Obviously, those partnerships don’t come easily. We have been exploring, and have travelled to Asia to evaluate supply lines and other opportunities,” Mick says. “In the shorter term, the greatest effort possible has been put into producing beef that will ultimately suit the future primary consumer of Australian beef; the Asian market.” As of this year, China now consumes one quarter of the world’s total red meat supply. “It’s an incredible number,” says Mick, “and I personally don’t believe that we will see the maturity of that market in my career, that’s for sure.” Colin points out as well that the company is always looking for new opportunities to evaluate their beef, which will continue to be the most important part of the business.
The close involvement of industry bodies has proven instrumental to businesses like Hewitt Cattle Australia. “Industry bodies offer great support, however they need to be continually ensuring that they’re focused on industry needs,” says Mick. “I believe that if industry bodies can do a better job substantiating the contribution they make in the industry, then they should be funded even better than they are now by the industry themselves.” Mick’s recent trips into Asia have shed light on the dedication of Meat and Livestock Australia to market Australian product to China and the Middle East. “I speak to a lot of people over there who know a lot about the red meat industry, and it seems to me that MLA are at the forefront of keeping Australia at the top of the agenda for the Asian consumer.” As well, HCA maintains many strong relationships with Australia’s larger processors, such as JBS Swift. Colin does however explain one of his major industry concerns along with many of his colleagues, is the dominance of the large processors within Australia.”
Colin feels that the most present issue facing Australia’s cattle industry is the recent dry season; as such weather can cause a number of difficulties with livestock. “We’ll be getting a good change in the weather in the next couple of months,” he says, “and with that, I think we’ll see a good change in the market.” Mick also notes a second and arguably more devastating obstacle; the market access issues which have resulted from the much publicized live export ban in the North. “They have put pretty severe downward pressure on the commodity value all across the board.”
An ideal that HCA has always strived for, and strives to discuss and promote is the topic of industry unity and efficiency, particularly within peak bodies, but also amongst their producers, in order to push for reform and change. “That’s really been a challenge to rural industry and in particular the beef industry in the last 20 years,” Mick says. “We believe that until governments become genuinely committed to agriculture on a broad scale, they’re not going to achieve output growth without a more conscientious effort to adjust and develop policy that supports industry.”
Mick spent the first 12 years of his career at the operational level, working hand-in-hand out in the paddock with other employees. In more recent years, however, he has become more involved with the management and administrative side of the business. “It’s been very rewarding,” says Mick. “In the last few years we’ve made a very conscious effort to become a vastly more sophisticated business, with financial modeling, forecasting, and budgeting, and general management across the board.” Looking to the future, The Hewitt’s are eager to take on the national and international industry at a larger scale than ever before.