A recent visit to the United Kingdom and Europe highlighted just how much we, as international lamb producers, have in common.
All of us want to produce the best eating experience for our consumer and be rewarded for it – but the challenge is growing the number of consumers who choose lamb over other proteins.
Growing the global lamb market
Across the EU, per head lamb consumption sits at just 1.9kg/head while beef is 10.9kg/head. It wouldn’t take much of a shift in consumer behaviour to make a significant difference to the global lamb market – and ultimately grower returns. EU producers can only produce 87% of what is consumed within those countries and France, for example, only produces 46% of its total lamb requirements – so there is certainly plenty of opportunity for future growth.
As lamb producers, it is in all of our best interests to work together to promote lamb and lift overall consumption. As “Team Lamb” we need to work out how we are going to do that – rather than try and shut each other out of any one market.
A seasonal advantage
The most obvious opportunity for NZ is our counter-seasonal production, which offers consumers the best-of-season lamb eating experience.
I like to draw an analogy with strawberries or asparagus. We all love that fresh seasonal produce rather than something that has been sitting in a chiller for months on end and NZ can offer consumers in the Northern Hemisphere prime, seasonal spring lamb.
There is also opportunity to work with our British and European colleagues to supply product for both internal and export markets – and processors need to be part of that conversation.
Certainly, there is real interest in grass-fed lamb, so coupled with the best in season production, we all have a fantastic product to take to the international market place.
Building international relationships
I was travelling with B+LNZ Chairman James Parson on, what for him, is an annual visit. Along with politicians and trade officials, we met with a number of farmer lobby groups in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and France. It highlighted to me the value of building and maintaining long-term relationships with these groups and full credit needs to be given to previous chairmen and CEOs for their work in this area.
It means when situations change, such as Brexit, we are not just appearing on the doorstep wanting our voices heard.
As a sheep farmer, it was really gratifying to see our interests are being well served by some outstanding people in the UK and Brussels.
David Taylor, NZ ambassador to the EU and Lockwood Smith, high commissioner to the UK, are doing a great job facilitating conversations between producer groups, farmers and marketers. B+LNZ’s Dave Harrison who recently returned to NZ after six years in Brussels, did an outstanding job as Regional Manager Europe and was very highly regarded by farmer groups and trade officials. I am confident the recently appointed Ben O’Brien will continue his good work.
While it is pleasing to see the hard work being done at the other end of the value chain, it is always good to get home to the production end. I managed to miss the bulk of the hogget lambing so as punishment was set to work shearing rams. One torn groin muscle later, I felt suitably grounded but happy to be a Southland farmer.
Andrew Morrison is Beef + Lamb New Zealand's Southern South Island farmer director. You can contact him on 027 6644 620.