Three decades ago Australia's Wagyu beef industry didn't exist. Today, thanks to pioneers such as Nick and Vicki Sher, the founders of Sher Wagyu, it supports some 500 Australian cattle farmers.
Given its reputation for quality, the success of Australian Wagyu might, in retrospect, seem assured. Not so, Nick states. Back in 1991, it was anything but.
"Along with a handful of other cattle farmers we got into Wagyu shortly after genetics became available outside of Japan," he explains. "Back then few Westerners had even heard of Wagyu. We hoped we’d be able to sell to the Japanese, but there were no guarantees they’d be interested in a foreign product."
Fortunately, Japanese consumers soon developed an appetite for the premium Wagyu produced by Nick and Vicki on their home farm in Ballan, Victoria. Other Asian countries and the US followed suit. But it took until 2005, after enquiries from local chefs who heard about Sher Wagyu, opens in new window, for the couple to land their first Australian customer. The local market required considerable promotional efforts to educate consumers about Wagyu beef.
As a mark of their progress, the Shers now have three farms, 10 full-time staff, many loyal customers and a host of industry awards. It’s an impressive CV, but Nick is quick to point out the adversities it glosses over. Along with market access and other challenges, the couple have dealt with droughts and currency fluctuations. "We had to borrow a lot of money to start producing Wagyu, then had to borrow more as our business has grown. NAB has always been very supportive and they understand our business."