The success of Texas Tech University’s research in meat science and quality is no secret to West Texas or even the state. Now the value of that research is being tasted around the world. Specifically, New Zealand’s beef industry recently has been overhauled by research completed through Tech’s Department of Animal and Food Sciences.
“The story actually started in 2005,” said Mark Miller, Tech professor and San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo Distinguished Chair in Meat Science. Miller said on a February morning that year, Australian beef industry executive Rod Polkinghorne literally showed up on the doorstep of the old Animal Science Building.
“He had been to various other American universities, looking for a research partner, and hadn’t found what he wanted,” Miller said. “He read about some of the work we’d done here at Texas Tech, and he just showed up.” The team assembled by Miller and Polkinghorne has since accomplished nearly 10 years of beef quality research in the Australian beef industry.
Fast forward to 2012, when Silver Fern Farms, the largest beef company in New Zealand approached Polkinghorne about doing a big beef quality project for them, mapping out what, if anything they had in their current system that would be acceptable to eat, marketing toward a grass-fed product and consumers who preferred grass-fed, Miller said.
“They came over and interviewed and visited with me and decided this is where they wanted to work,” Miller said. “We put a contract together, they gave a gift of $2 million, and we did a tremendous amount of consumer research on their beef.”
This project was the largest project of its kind ever conducted, said Travis O’Quinn, senior research associate in the department, and stateside coordinator of the project. “We fed more than 10,000 consumers in the U.S. across 13 different cities,” he said.
Among the biggest challenge was lining up the consumer groups from the other cities. “It’s one thing to convince people in Lubbock to come out and eat, but it is entirely something different to explain to someone 1,000 miles away what you need,” he said.
But when everything was done and the last consumer was fed, O’Quinn said they were able to take the data and create a grading system that will help the Silver Fern Farms accurately predict the eating satisfaction of each piece of meat they sell.