Frustrated by works cattle delays

Meat processors say they are working overtime to ease drought and supply chain pressure. PHOTO:...
Meat processors say they are working overtime to ease drought and supply chain pressure. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE
A frustrated southern beef farmer has been waiting months to get cattle on a truck as meat processors work overtime to reduce a bovine backlog.

A Taieri farmer, who asked to remain anonymous because of fear of being blacklisted by meat-processing companies, said he contacted Silver Fern Farms in mid-March to book in 10 beef cattle for processing.

When he was told to expect to a wait of up to three weeks, he called Alliance and was given a similar response.

Silver Fern Farms updated him earlier this month and he was told to expect the wait to continue until next month.

The farmer expected the delay to cost up to $4000 more in supplementary feed: "Money you won’t get back".

The reasons Silver Fern Farms gave him for the wait were dry conditions in the South and supply chain challenges after processing.

The farmer was told priority for processing space was allocated to fully shared suppliers first, then loyal suppliers who had supplied consistently every year for the past five years and then those dealing directly with one of its livestock representatives.

He had been supplying Silver Fern Farms for less than than five years, after switching from Alliance Group, which he had been supplying for about 15 years.

Meat processors should inform all clients of delays as soon as possible and could improve their communication, he said.

Silver Fern Farms supply chain general manager Dan Boulton said the South Island beef kill this season was up 11% on last year.

The rise was "driven by an increase in beef animals being raised in the South Island, coupled by the widespread dry throughout the South Island".

Silver Fern Farms used its national network by moving livestock between regions with the least supply chain pressure, minimising the impact on its overall weekly kill profile.

Silver Fern Farms’ investment at its plants had allowed it to increase processing capacity at its Canterbury and Southland plants this season.

However, shortages in skilled labour nationwide could directly affect capacity at some locations.

"At times we have not been able to achieve our maximum daily or weekend ‘overtime’ capacity, either driven by labour or supply chain congestion."

The company’s primary focus was being able to move animals off-farm, Mr Boulton said.

"We recognise the challenges that some of our farmer partners are experiencing and we’re working hard to prioritise animals from the areas hardest hit."

Silver Fern Farms was proud of how it had minimised the impact on its farmer partners when facing supply chain disruptions in New Zealand and overseas.

The disruptions often occurred at short notice and decisions were reviewed daily in relation to its processing capacity and logistics plans.

"We have only had three separate instances to date where the supply chain challenges have directly impacted the daily processing capacity at an individual plant.

"Pleasingly", in "unprecedented times", Silver Fern Farms had very strong export months in March and April this year, he said.

Alliance Group livestock and shareholder services general manager Danny Hailes said Alliance was experiencing global supply chain issues caused by Covid-19, including container shortages, off schedule vessels, delayed transit times and port productivity.

"These logistical challenges have coincided with the sector’s seasonal cattle processing peak."

As a result, farmers in some areas were facing processing delays for cattle of up to three weeks. Alliance was "working hard" to manage the situation including running overtime to maximise its plants’ capacity, moving stock across it network and prioritising processing from loyal shareholders.

This year, it had increased its bovine network capacity by 10% and was planning to activate additional capacity at Pukeuri (Oamaru) and Levin later this year.

For the season to date, Alliance had processed more cattle this year than the previous year.

There was currently no delay in processing lambs, he said.

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