Red-meat supply seen as crucial issue

Committed supply is one simple aspect by which farmers can help the red-meat industry, Federated Farmers Otago meat and fibre chairman Simon McAtamney says.

In his report to the province's annual meeting, Mr McAtamney said the rural lobby organisation would keep pushing the message about committed supply.

Reflecting on the past year, Mr McAtamney said it had been a much better one for Otago's meat and fibre farmers than the previous year.

It appeared the season would also be a more profitable one for the major meat companies. Less volatile markets and improving returns for products should see some healthier financial results later in the year, he said.

Meat Industry Excellence had ''certainly ruffled some feathers'' over the past year.

While the group saw that the pathway to restructuring the industry lay through the co-operatives, it also had to keep focus on engaging with non-co-operative suppliers who stocked the other 50% of the industry.

Otherwise, the co-operatives might end up being restructured, but not the industry.

Mr McAtamney believed many of the problems that had arisen for the southern meat companies stemmed from one factor ''totally out of their control'' over the past 20 years: the rapid growth in wealth in Asia had resulted in a ''seemingly insatiable'' demand for dairy protein.

The South Island had all the resources needed to supply that demand and that had taken a huge amount of supply, especially sheep, away from the meat companies, he said.

''What really could they have done about that? What if this hadn't happened? Would we actually be getting as well paid for lamb as we are now?

''The meat companies would all be better off with better throughput, but would we?

''We are now starting to see huge demand for red-meat protein from China. Are we possibly going to get on a similar roll as the dairy industry, albeit later?'' he asked.

The future of Invermay had been a contentious issue, and AgResearch's plan to create two main research hubs had caused a ''lot of dismay''.

If that was not to happen, Mr McAtamney asked if the continuation of Invermay in its present form would be a good thing.

''Constant restructuring over the past two decades has already seen Invermay's role diminished.

''If Invermay is to survive and thrive, it probably needs its science capability better supported and enlarged, otherwise more good scientists will continue to leave albeit more slowly than what might happen with a sudden shift to Christchurch,'' he said.

A likely referendum for a compulsory wool levy for a new wool-grower body would no doubt cause debate throughout the rest of the year, he said.

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