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Wagyu beef competition shows an industry on the rise and off-the-chart marbling in steak

Wagyu beef ready for judging. (Supplied: Australian Wagyu Association)

If you love a good steak, then imagine being a judge at this year's Wagyu-branded beef competition.

There were a record 57 entries from Wagyu brands across Australia.

"It's fair to say we don't need to pay the judges to show up," Australian Wagyu Association CEO Matt McDonagh said.

"We had five categories ranging from commercial Wagyu steak, to the Fullblood Japanese Black steak."

He said the judges assessed flavour, juiciness, tenderness and visual characteristics.

Off the chart

Wagyu is famous for its marbling and the competition saw 10 companies enter the class one Fullblood Japanese Wagyu category.

"It's just a different level of eating experience," Mr McDonagh said.

"So the AUS-MEAT marbling score system goes from zero to nine. We use a Meat Image Japan grading camera and this year we've had an entry with a digital marble score equivalent of 18, so that's off the AUS-MEAT scale. 

"That's a phenomenal piece of meat and at that point they're 60 per cent intramuscular fat, so more than half of that steak is actually that soft, unique, fine marbling that comes through with Wagyu.

"It literally melts in your mouth."

This Wagyu steak has a digital marbling score of 18. (Supplied: Australian Wagyu Association)

Mr McDonagh said the majority of Wagyu produced in Australia was classed as F1, which is an animal with 50 per cent Wagyu genetics, but the industry was increasingly seeing a rise in fullblood genetics.

Australia now has by far the largest Fullblood Wagyu population outside of Japan.

The winners of the Wagyu Association's branded beef competition will be announced at a special dinner event in Sydney on April 19.

Cattle prices slide

Across the board Australian cattle prices have been on the slide since November last year, with the benchmark Eastern Young Cattle Indicator (EYCI) now more than $4.30 a kilo below its record level reached early last year.

The supply of cattle into saleyards has been on the rise and meatworks are working hard to keep up, with nearly 109,000 head processed last week — the highest slaughter number since late 2020.

The benchmark Eastern Young Cattle Indicator (EYCI) has been on the slide since November 2022. (ABC Landline)

Prices are still historically high, but there are a few factors at play according to analyst Matt Dalgleish.

He said internationally, demand was sluggish from customers such as the US and China.

And domestically the long-term weather outlook seemed to be making restockers tentative.

"We've had three years of really good seasons and the chance of getting a fourth year is pretty unlikely," he said.

"The Bureau [of Meteorology] is now saying La Niña is breaking down and we're likely to go back to a more normal season this year and the next thing around the corner is likely going to be an El Niño and a drought phase.

"So that exuberance to buy cattle we've seen in the last few years from restockers is starting to wane."

Mr McDonagh said Wagyu prices had eased, but maintained a premium of about $4 a kilo above black cattle prices.

"I'd say we're seeing slight movements in the Wagyu price compared to the significant movements we're seeing in other cattle categories," he said.

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