NZ Merino and SFF combine for meat and wool brand

Wool marketer New Zealand Merino and meat company Silver Fern Farms are forming a joint venture to market and promote merino branded sheep meat and by-products.

The initial three-year agreement will see Silver Fern Farms (SFF) process the fine- and mid-micron woolled sheep sourced from New Zealand Merino (NZM) clients, with meat, offal, leather and lanolin products marketed under a new brand by the still un-named joint venture company.

Growers will be offered three-year supply contracts with annual incremental price increases. Backers have set a first-year goal of attracting half a million sheep.

Products will be marketed in the same way that NZM has marketed its merino wool, using the providence of the New Zealand high country, its people and farming systems.

"Following the lead of the successful merino fibre model, the two companies will leverage their combined expertise to create new markets for the fine sheep meat and link growers to premium global markets via direct supply contracts," said NZM chief executive John Brakenridge.

The two parties say the deal was the result of SFF, PGG Wrightson and Landcorp Farming successfully securing Government Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) co-funding. They intend to add value to meat products by establishing a plate-to-pasture structure for meat.

SFF chief executive Keith Cooper said the joint industry and Government Primary Growth Partnership funding will allow them to consumer-test the quality attributes of merino meat and assist breeders and growers to produce animals with attributes desired by consumers.

"We will identify the quality attributes consumers are prepared to pay a premium for and then get commitment of supply of products with those attributes," he said in an interview.

Much was known about the wool attributes of merino sheep, but little about their meat, and Mr Brakenridge said this latest venture was part of a bigger push to make the breed a multipurpose animal.

He said many merino farmers consider 2-year-old sheep the best tasting, but under the present meat grading system farmers receive a discounted price for older animals, so sheep are killed younger.

Consumer testing could refine the type and age of merinos supplied, based on meat quality.

Mr Brakenridge said this would allow fine wool sheep to be shorn twice before slaughter which, in some regions, could make sheep income comparable with dairy support and encourage some farmers to farm fine-wool sheep.

Finishing merino sheep to killable weights has not always been possible from dryland farms, and Mr Brakenridge said three-year store lamb contracts would be offered along with other finishing arrangements through SFF.

Farmer commitment was voluntary and those who participate will have to contribute 4% of meat revenue towards marketing and innovation.

"Growers have been asking for this for years. Reports have recommended this for years but, like all things, it has been difficult to try and find entities that have not only the collective skill base, but an appetite to have a go at this," Mr Brakenridge said.

Mr Cooper said this was an example of the intent of the PGP.

"I see this as fitting perfectly in to the purpose of the PGP, being innovative, encouraging innovation, testing branding and taking on a transformational initiative."



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