Vote taken on farmer contributions

New Zealand's red-meat sector is at a ''critical junction'' and farmers have given the message they want action to turn around the precarious situation, Beef and Lamb New Zealand chairman Mike Petersen says.

Speaking at the organisation's annual meeting, held at the Upper Clutha A&P Show in Wanaka yesterday, Mr Petersen said volatile returns were a real threat to the industry's future and farmers were questioning whether the industry had a future.

The mood and lack of confidence was worse today than five years ago after three years of low lamb pricing.

The consistent view was that although those in the business of food production were in the ''box seat'' for future prospects, that was cold comfort for those facing drought and the collapse in meat pricing, he said.

More stability and higher returns were needed if the sector was going to retain and attract ''the best and brightest''.

While it was not the role of Beef and Lamb to talk about the role of meat companies, the request from farmers had been clear. They wanted to hear of gains made by meat companies in the procurement and market areas. A vote was held yesterday for the farmer contribution for the Collaboration for Sustainable Growth programme, with the result to be announced next week.

The development of that programme, which has up to $32.4 million from the Ministry for Primary Industries' Primary Growth Partnership Fund, was a crucial component to get wider adoption of best practice on farms, he said.

While some farmers took it as an insult that they were not making production gains, that was not the case - they were making gains. It was about giving farmers a helping hand to lift performance and about becoming more efficient on-farm, Mr Petersen said.

Woodville farmer Nick Perry said he would be voting against it. It would cause more lamb to be thrown at a processing system ''that has nothing but roller coasters in front of it''.

Banks Peninsula farmer Mark Shadbolt believed it was a great opportunity, with money leveraged from other organisations, and described it as a ''step into the future''.

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