Japanese cattle farmers are looking for greener pastures abroad as the tax rise makes for tougher sales on the domestic market.
Wagyu farmers are priming up to expand their market abroad amid rising wealth in Asia that could help drive demand for the premium meat, and they hope to more than double their annual exports to 25 billion yen by 2020.
This premium beef or wagyu, which literally means “Japanese cow,” is produced by a selective breeding process that maintains the cows’ heavily marbled flesh, yielding a soft, sweet meat.
Kobe beef, produced from the Tajima strain of wagyu cattle raised in Hyogo Prefecture, is well known outside of Japan.
Hirotaka Sekiguchi, a cattle producer in Kamisato township, north of Tokyo, says he dressed his wagyu calves in T-shirts and jackets to protect them against Japan’s spring chill.
Sekiguchi pampers his 320 cattle with customized meals and private stalls to ensure they develop the high-quality, luxurious-tasting meat that fetches almost twice the price of silver in Hong Kong.
“The operators of huge farms overseas can’t give the individual care that we do,” the 59-year-old Sekiguchi said, who tends his herd with his wife and two adult sons. “To get the best beef, the most important things are to keep them healthy, make each animal eat as much as it can, and let them sleep for as long as they want.”
A 14-ounce wagyu rib eye from Japan at the InterContinental Hotel Steak House in Hong Kong is sold for 32,000 yen (2,400 Hong Kong dollars). But prices for the beef can go higher: the restaurant charges 2,180 Hong Kong dollars for a tenderloin weighing 8 standard ounces. Measured in troy ounces (the unit of measurement used for precious metals), this comes to a price of $38.54 per troy ounce—nearly double that of silver, which is trading at just under $20 per troy ounce.
Exports of wagyu rose 14 percent last year to 5.8 billion as demand for Japan’s premium meat grew, led by Asian sales in Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore.
Japan faces competition with Australia, which is also seeking to take advantage of increased demand for premium meat in Asia.
By Maesie Bertumen
Image: “Wagyu Beef” by James/Flickr