One of the red meat industry’s most successful capacity building programs, the Australian Intercollegiate Meat Judging Association (ICMJ), will celebrate 30 years in July.
The 2019 Australian ICMJ workshop and competition will be held at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, NSW, from 9–14 July, supported by MLA and the Australian Meat Processors Corporation (AMPC).
In a demonstration of its ongoing success, the event will be its biggest to date, with more than 150 students from 12 Australian institutions and four international teams attending, as well as some 40 coaches.
This year, a new team from the University of Tasmania will be competing for the first time, and the careers expo year has attracted 40 companies from throughout the supply chain.
A celebration for ICMJ Alumni will be held at 9am on Saturday, 13 July commencing with a brunch at the Uneke Warehouse in Wagga Wagga, followed by the option to participate in an Alumni Meat Judging competition at Teys Australia and the 30th Anniversary ICMJ Awards Dinner at the Rules Club.
The program was first established in Australia after NSW Southern Tablelands beef producer, John Carter, saw the enormous contribution the program made to the United States industry while on his 1983 Churchill Fellowship in meat marketing.
When he became Chairman of the NSW Meat Industry Authority, John gathered support to establish the program in Australia.
As the inaugural Australian ICMJ President, John said he was very proud of what the program had achieved.
“When I did the Churchill Fellowship and came across the ICMJ program at Greeley in the US, there were only two people in the whole of the processing sector in Australia with tertiary degrees, and our understanding of meat quality was pretty much non-existent at the time,” he said.
“I’m really proud of how far the program in Australia has come. Initially, we had predominantly male students from TAFE involved, and we saw that shift to predominantly female university students.
“The secret to success in ICMJ is attention to detail and the success of female students in the program reflects that.
“It was very exciting when we got universities from Japan and South Korea to participate in the program, and it really has become a Pacific Rim contest each year now.
“I also find it very rewarding that we’ve got a lot of our graduates working in the industry now, and that there are students from each year that put their hands up to come back as coaches, run the committee and keep it going.”
Model of success
The program boasts more than 2,500 alumni, including current ICMJ President and UNE Meat Science Senior Lecturer, Dr Peter McGilchrist.
Peter said what started as a one-day competition in 1990 has now grown exponentially to become a five-day event in southern Australia and a three-day event in northern Australia.
“Our mission is to inspire and develop young industry professionals in the global red meat industry – everything we do we put through that filter,” he said.
“The value of ICMJ is not just around meat science training and education – it’s an opportunity to really hold the red meat industry up in lights and say to undergraduate students, ‘this is a great industry to work in’.
“The ICMJ program works. A 2016 survey of alumni found many were now working throughout the red meat supply chain, with just over 20% working in the processing sector alone.
“The program also delivers networking and industry connections to the students. Nowhere else do you have 200 undergraduate students and industry partners mingling for five days.
“Access, insights and opportunities is what we also stand for. Australian undergraduates, sadly, can get through a whole agricultural degree and never see inside a meat processor. This program is providing students the opportunity to get a first-hand look at how technologically advanced the industry is.
MLA Managing Director, Jason Strong, who has been involved in the Australian ICMJ since its second year and was a team coach for many years, said ICMJ provided invaluable experience and connections for participants.
“Of all the different things I’ve done over the years, from agri-politics to commercial and international roles, ICMJ, both here and in the US, has been by far the biggest contributor to the breadth of my network,” Jason said.
“ICMJ is one of our most successful industry events, particularly with the connection between industry and training organisations.”
Jason said the introduction of Meat Standards Australia (MSA) was a critical tipping point in ICMJ.
“When ICMJ first started, it was looking at how to get people in tertiary education more involved in the meat industry and then when MSA came along, that also provided a career path for meat judging students, and meat judging provided a source of potential employees for MSA as well.
“There was a fundamental shift when we moved away from just having it as a competition, to having it as a training program and a competition. That was also driven by the dominance in the competition falling to a couple of individual institutions that were much better resourced and had programs with a meat component.
“By putting in place a training program, it gave everybody not just a more equitable position to compete from in the competition but a base level understanding of the red meat industry and exposed them to executives and companies in the industry.”
Furthering its reach, ICMJ expanded this year to include an inaugural Northern Conference in Rockhampton in April, sponsored by CQUniversity and Teys Australia.