Serving more than just beef
Richard and Annabell Subtil are supplying more than just top-quality beef to Japan's Aleph restaurants through ANZCO Foods.
Tied up in their supply agreement is a farming philosophy of environmental responsibility and growing food to the highest standards of natural, pasture-based production with minimal inputs.
As Richard says, they are selling beef into the aspirational ultra-natural supply bracket, which serves up much more than just a good eating experience. Underpinning the eating experience are a raft of values around welfare, sustainability and natural-production systems.
The company's name and logo emphasises their desire to pursue a food culture with respect to nature and life – and the Subtil's high country beef production system fits this perfectly.
The couple, who farm the 12000 ha Omarama Station in South Canterbury, has been supplying beef to Aleph for around 16 years.
"It is a relationship based on good old-fashioned trust- which they – and we – are very serious about."
"Each side has its challenges- but everyone has their eye on the long-term prize, not on the short-term gains."
Through ANZCO Foods, the Subtils sell 280 R2 steers and heifers into Aleph contracts every year. The steers are finished to 300kgCW and the heifers 280kgCW, with supply starting in January and finishing in June.
The animals are grown out entirely on irrigated pasture- no feed crops- and the Subtils are restricted to using reactive phosphate rock (RPR) fertiliser, as Aleph view the acidic nature of superphosphate fertilisers as being potentially detrimental to soil health.
The Subtils, who won the Supreme Award in the 2015 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards, are more than happy to adjust their fertiliser programme to meet the company's requirements.
Richard says RPR fits with their philosophy and farm system. It is slower-acting than sulphur-based fertilisers, which meant they had to be patient for a couple years when they first began using it- but now it works well, particularly under their centre-pivot irrigation.
The cattle sold into the Aleph contracts are the progeny from their Angus X Hereford cows which have been mated with a Charolais terminal sire.
The supply agreement requires the cattle to be a minimum of 50% British beef breed and other parameters include meat and fat colour and meat pH. Any animals that fall outside of these specifications are sold on the spot market.
Richard and Annabelle don't wean their calves until June, which Richard says works with their farm system. The weaners are given their one drench at this time and that is the only animal treatment they will get.
After weaning they are rotated around the farm's 560ha of irrigated flats. The pastures grown under irrigation are a mix of tall fescue, timothy, chicory, plantain and red and white clover and this high- quality feed drives heifer growth rates averaging 0.8kg/day while the steers grow at an average of 1kg/day.
The cattle finished for Aleph attract a premium, but just as importantly, Richard and Annabelle know the company appreciates the care and attention that goes into producing top-quality beef.
"It's more than a commodity to them.
"They have a real passion for what they do and this matches the passion we have for what we do."
Representatives from Aleph have visited Omarama Station and Richard and Annabelle have been to Japan to meet with the company and see where their beef is being sold.
It is this very personal relationship and an understanding of each other's business that has seen them through when hiccups occur. Unforeseen events such as drought in South Canterbury and Tsunamis in Japan do impact on supply and demand, but these are temporary glitches in what is a valued long-term relationship.
Richard says consumers in Japan are incredibly discerning about food quality and are prepared to visit numerous outlets to source the best quality produce.
Even minced beef is of the highest quality and Aleph, which serves around 64 million meals from 330 stores annually, take pride in delivering food to consumers who demand quality and nutritional value.
"It is a fantastic feeling to be supplying into a market where attention to detail is making the best of what we do on-farm," says Richard.
The Aleph beef contract fits well with the Subtil's drive to maximise the value of everything they produce. Alongside their 310 breeding cows, the family run 7500 merino breeding ewes and finish 11,400 Merino lambs (including 3,400 bought-in lambs).
Their wool, which sits at 17-19 micron, is sold into Icebreaker and John Smedley contracts.
On recognition of their excellence in farm management, the couple were joint winners of the Lincoln University Trust South Island Farmer of the Year in 2016.