Red meat farmers 'on their own' to sort out sector crisis

Plans for a red meat industry summit appear aborted with Meat Industry Excellence chairman John McCarthy saying farmers are ''on their own'' if they want to sort out the industry.

In March, MIE called for an urgent summit to address what it described as a crisis confronting the sector and the country.

But, having canvassed some stakeholders seeking support for a summit, it became quickly apparent it was ''going nowhere'', Mr McCarthy said this week.

''Whilst we have not spoken to all stakeholders, from our initial approaches it was obvious that we were unlikely to get sufficient buy-in to attract government support, let alone get a positive and enduring outcome.''

MIE had been looking to Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy for organisational and ministerial support to enable the initiative.

Mr Guy has previously encouraged all members of the industry to collaborate, talk and resolve issues, saying any meaningful event must have the commitment of all players in the industry.

Mr McCarthy said the lack of support reinforced that if farmers ''genuinely want to turn this thing around'', they had to do it themselves.

''As it was with the predictable failure around tradeable slaughter rights, it is obvious that, beyond the farm gate, this is an industry model defined and limited by patch protection and individual company self-interest.

''This should not be construed as a criticism, it is quite simply yet another illustration of why we cannot rely on, or indeed have expectations that the processor/exporters can effect any major changes.

''They are limited as to what they can do by their individual balance sheets and corporate responsibilities.''

MIE believed that ''destructive competition'' was a limiting factor in terms of the opportunities required to keep sheep and beef farming competitive with alternative land uses.

The group was now looking at the opportunities for farmer incomes under a model with scale, stable procurement patterns and in-market co-operation.

One figure it had identified as an aspirational goal was $8 a kg for lamb in order to be ''on a truly profitable footing''.

''We believe this to be achievable but not under the current model,'' Mr McCarthy said.

The biggest hurdle to ''much-needed'' change would be the predicted increase in farmer incomes in the coming season, he said.

''What we should be aware of is that the fundamentals have not changed; this roller coaster pattern is the reason MIE exists.

''If we take our foot off the pedal now, in another three to five years there will be other farmer meetings in Gore and Feilding and another MIE or MIAG (Meat Industry Action Group) will be born.''

The industry could be turned around but it was up to all farmers to keep the pressure on.

•  A delegation of red meat exporters, led by the Meat Industry Association, has headed to China this week.

The group, responsible for more than 95% of New Zealand red meat exports, would meet Chinese regulatory agencies, industry bodies and customers.

It was about building relationships in a key market, MIA chairman Bill Falconer said.

''While individual companies travel regularly to the market, it is rare for the meat industry to travel together in such force. This delegation is testament to the importance we place on China.''

There has been rapid growth in meat exports to China over the past five years.

In 2013, New Zealand sent 36% of all sheepmeat exports and 10% of beef to China.

Total industry exports to China were worth almost $1.3 billion.

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