It really should come as no surprise that a farmer facing a huge problem can see a new way of doing things that will help everybody. After all, they face uncertainty every day.
Such is the case for Steve and Liz Binnie, who run a 2500-hectare wagyu beef farm at Mirannie Station east of Singleton in the Hunter Valley.
The Binnies have seen the collapse of the export market for their high-quality wagyu beef that is served in high-end restaurants around the world due to the COVID-19 crisis. As of two weeks ago, they ceased sending beef overseas, where it was served in top restaurants from Shangai to New York.
In those two weeks they have retooled with both head and heart to serve their product to Hunter Valley consumers.
Importantly, they want to give away beef to the people most in need.
"This is our opportunity to help as a community," Steve Binnie said.
They will be giving away the equivalent of 1000 meals a week (packets of mince) to the outreach program being set up by The Grainery Church ministry in Steel River, along with Christians Against Poverty and Newcastle Hunter Community Health. The mince packets will be included in parcels given away by the service to those affected by unexpected job losses.
"It started with us seeing this avalanche of unemployment coming, people not able to feed themselves, And restaurants not buying [beef]," Liz Binnie said. "We can do both. We can help both."
The Binnies are also giving 2000 vouchers worth $50 each that can be used to obtain Binnie beef products to Biarta Flannagan-Jones, a Hunter doctor (not currently working) who is organising Covid Care Packs that will go out from next week for frontline Hunter New England emergency health care staff.
"The next thing that we are really concerned about is health care workers," Steve Binnie said.
"We want to see them supported. There is nothing worse than a long shift at hospital, coming home to an empty fridge. If we can give a thank you and little voucher - we appreciate you, we care for you. That will maintain the dotted blue line."
The Binnie business has several dimensions - besides a turnover of nearly 700 wagyu cattle a year, they have 1000 breeding stock and sell frozen Wagyu semen globally under the Delta Wagyu brand, they run their own timber mill, and they own (with partners) a business office hub at 144 Parry Street in Newcastle West.
To recover the lost wagyu beef export market, they are changing directions and focusing on the Australian market, particularly the Hunter Valley market, for the immediate future.
"We have changed the business considerably," Steve Binnie said. "The end customer is still there. However, the way they eat the beef is in the comfort of their own home rather than restaurants."
This week they began a home delivery service, offering a selection of five "kits" of beef (10kg of meat each). Prices start at $220.
"We don't want to be a butcher shop," Steve Binnie said. "We are not competing. The butchers are our friends. We are just offering a different service."
Consumers will have to cut the primal cuts of beef themselves. They are made and packed for restaurants, so a roast cap cut will be about 1.5kg and need to be cut into steaks. Such a 1.5kg cut will make about 10 meals worth of meat, Steve Binnie explained.
The Binnies are swiftly turning the lower level of 144 Parry Street into a retail beef warehouse. When they start trading, customers must book an appointment (via their website binniebeef.com.au). Customers numbers will be tightly controlled, and the store frequently closed for cleaning.
On Thursday the Binnies and their four children and two new staff were busily cleaning and prepping the Parry Street site. While their website, created by Justin Hales from Camplify, who suddenly has time on his hands and offered to help, only went live this week, they are already taking appointments.
"Don't get us wrong, we are sombre about the road ahead, but optimistic about what is emerging," Liz Binnie said.
The Binnie family has been in Australian agriculture since 1835, first operating a saddlery on George Street, Sydney. The next step was raising draft horses for bakeries and breweries from the Singleton property. After a long period with Hereford cattle, they moved into the Wagyu business about five years ago.
While 90 per cent of their Wagyu meat is exported, in Australia it is served at restaurants such as Subo, EXP and O Bar in Sydney.
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