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Ms Timms raised her concerns yesterday with Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy, saying there was widespread and growing concern in the community about the state of the industry.
In a statement before the meeting, she said she was meeting Mr Guy to discuss the ''real risks'' to the country's environmental and economic future if the issues were not resolved. The Government would face barriers in meeting its economic growth agenda, and regional councils would struggle to meet the water-quality goals of the national policy statement on freshwater, she said.
While she was not asking the Government to directly intervene, Ms Timms said she was pushing the case for ''national leadership'' as it would be difficult to meet the freshwater targets of the NPS without the sheepmeat industry having long-term viability. Southland and many other regions were facing water-quality issues due to elevated nitrogen levels. It was clear the generally less extensive nature of red-meat farming helped to lower the overall environmental footprint in rural Southland, she said.
The region has experienced a huge increase in dairy conversions in the past 20 years, bringing environmental concerns.
Statistics released by LIC and DairyNZ in December last year showed Southland had 11.1% of all dairy cows in New Zealand, with 532,079 cows, a massive increase from the 170,323 in the region in the 1998-99 season. In contrast, sheep numbers dropped by 1.3 million in the period from 2007 to June 2012.
After the meeting, Mr Guy said the pair agreed the red-meat industry was important to New Zealand and, particularly, Southland. He was following the various discussions about the future of the sector closely. Meat Industry Excellence was developing a proposal for a meat industry summit and he would support that process if it had broad support across the sector.
He had also made it clear he was not prepared to intervene in private business matters without broad sector support.
''We need to remember the Government doesn't own this industry,'' he said.
If a significant portion of the sector offered a solution on how to improve the industry, his door was ''always open''. He would consider any proposals to maximise the value of meat exports and achieve sustainable profits for farmers and processors.
The Government was strongly supporting the industry through the Primary Growth Partnership, and the Red Meat Profit Partnership programme was the most comprehensive collaboration across the sector that had ever been undertaken, he said.
It was worth noting there were ''lots of positive signs'' for the industry. The Ministry for Primary Industries' Situation Outlook for the Primary Industries was updated earlier this year and predicted meat exports would be $1.2 billion higher than originally forecast.
Beef and Lamb New Zealand's latest forecast several weeks ago also predicted better pricing and strong demand for sheepmeat and beef products from key markets, he said.