Urgent call to discuss reform options

A turnaround of the red meat sector has been called for; pictured, sheep pause on a bluff of the...
A turnaround of the red meat sector has been called for; pictured, sheep pause on a bluff of the Dingleburn road, above Lake Hawea. Photo by ODT.

Meat Industry Excellence is calling on Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy to convene an urgent industry summit to address what it describes as a crisis confronting the sector and the country.

The summit was needed to flesh out areas of stakeholder commonality as to profitable and realistic reform options, chairman John McCarthy said.

A consensual approach was needed and the Government had a key role to play in terms of facilitation.

MIE would be seeking cross-party support on the basis that a reinvigorated red meat sector was in the national interest.

It was not in the national interest to turn New Zealand into a ''giant dairy farm''.

That was flawed economically and the environmental footprint was at odds with the country's national brand, Mr McCarthy said.

''Dairy is eating our lunch, but in the interests of New Zealand's environment, and long-term economic diversity, we need to ensure that the red meat industry turns around and reaches its potential."

Stud breeders were reporting demand for rams was down by up to 50% this year, while conversions to dairy farming, especially in the South Island, were eroding traditional sheep and beef land at an estimated annual rate of 6% to 7%, Mr McCarthy said.

''To pretend the red meat sector, and sheep and deer in particular, is anything other than a crisis is to fool ourselves.

''It's time the industry got together to take immediate steps to secure the sector's future,'' he said.

In a recent update to farmers, retiring Beef and Lamb New Zealand chairman Mike Petersen asked farmers to have confidence in the future of the sector and not get ''side-tracked'' by comparisons with the well-performing dairy sector.

He urged farmers to focus on the areas where they influence and control, invest in their farming business, innovate and adapt. He also encouraged farmers to get involved in what happened beyond the farm gate.

''Farmers need to stand up and be heard in this country where we are a very small proportion of the population in spite of our huge contribution to the economy,'' he said.

Sheep meat supply was down globally and demand was reported as being firm.

Importantly, price rises were being seen that were not resembling ''the boom and bust mentality'' seen in previous years.

He believed the new red meat profit partnership was a ''potential game changer'' for the sector, injecting capital, commitment and ideas to dramatically lift the profitability of farmers and the performance of the sector.

ASB rural economist Nathan Penny said lamb prices had held up well in recent months at a time in the season when prices generally fell.

That augured well for a further improvement in prices over the year.

He expected 16kg lambs to fetch between $90 and $100 by the time spring rolled around, from about $80 currently.

That was attributed to improving demand in the key United Kingdom market, tight local supply and similarly week supply from Australia. Strong Chinese demand for frozen lamb was helping further underpin lamb prices.

The UK economy was improving after a grim few years and increasing consumer confidence was adding to demand for products like lamb, he said.

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