Meating the future
For the past seven years, the second week of July has been marked out for meat judging in Farrah Preston’s diary.
What started out as an interest to learn more about production beyond the farm gate quickly turned in to the foundations for an exciting career.
Farrah first attended the Australian Intercollegiate Meat Judging (ICMJ) Association’s conference in 2014 during the final year of her Animal Science degree. The five-day conference and competition was enlightening and sparked her enthusiasm for meat science, although not successful in the competition herself.
“I did terribly in the competition when I competed. But that didn’t matter, the most important part of that week was the experience and being involved, and the doors it has opened since”.
Every year, 150 students and 40 coaches from twelve Australian and four international universities descend on Wagga Wagga, NSW. The week-long ICMJ program includes guest lectures from industry leaders, practical skill-building sessions, a careers expo, and sponsored networking dinners. The program culminates with the competition and a celebratory awards dinner.
Inspired by the ICMJ program, Farrah pursued an honour’s project investigating abattoir factors related to dark cutting beef where she had the opportunity to work closely with Teys Australia. This study provided exciting results and grew into a PhD project, of which Farrah is currently completing the final year.
Whilst continuing postgraduate study, Farrah has remained involved in the ICMJ program as coach of the University of Adelaide team. This has also included coaching students from Bogor Agricultural University, Indonesia.
“Each year we host five Indonesian students and it’s such a fantastic opportunity for everyone involved. We get to show them Australia and they compete at ICMJ with us, then they return the favour by hosting us in Indonesia later in the year. There have been some great friendships formed through this program.”
Coaching the team, which includes final year Animal, Agricultural, and Veterinary Science students, has included many early mornings spent layered up in cold chillers. Whilst bringing together a team and preparing them for the competition is a big task, this has not been a deterrent to her enthusiasm.
“I really enjoy being able to provide students the same experience I had and see them get so excited about the meat industry.”
Farrah’s dedication to coaching and mentoring for the past five years was rewarded when she received the Dr Tom Carr Award for Coaching Excellence and the Cattle Council Australia Industry Scholarship at ICMJ’s 30th Anniversary event in 2019.
Encouraging students and being involved in the ICMJ program remains set in Farrah’s plans for the foreseeable future.
“Meat judging provides invaluable skills and experience to students, regardless of where they see themselves working in industry: stud managers, livestock buyers, nutritionists, geneticists, consultants; not just meat processing. Almost every part of an animal’s life – from pre-conception to post-slaughter - ultimately contributes to meat production and quality. It’s important we send students into jobs with this breadth of knowledge so they can provide good lifetime management advice and make decisions with the end goal in sight.”
Farrah has coached 125 students from Adelaide and Bogor through the meat judging training and said couldn’t be more proud of the success they’re having in their careers, many of which have been shaped by participating in ICMJ.
Article by Jamie Jones.