Over the next 12 weeks, we have thousands of lambs to dock and wean and sheep to shear, as well as hundreds of cows to calve. The downside of a later lambing and calving is that everything concertinas into a condensed period. It’s a physically and mentally demanding time of the year.
Throw in weather vagaries and my heart starts racing a little.
Global factors conspiring
Meanwhile, factors entirely out of our control percolate around the globe: economic and financial volatility, Brexit, US elections, supply and demand, exchange rates and a touch of social unrest. These influences – and many others – conspire to make price signals to farmers a real challenge for our exporters.
Unlike the dairy industry, where farm gate pricing is signalled regularly, the red meat sector encounters perennial uncertainties around what our natural, free-range and grass-fed product may return. It’s an uncomfortable place to be.
What do the most profitable farmers focus on?
Tim Hembrow, Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s (B+LNZ) Economic Service manager for our region, recently reminded me of what the most profitable sheep and beef farmers focus on – despite facing the same challenges as the rest of us.
What are those focus areas? Better genetics – it’s a cheap win. Improving survival, especially pre-weaning. Hogget mating, where practical. Autumn and spring nitrogen – N grows grass. A committed pasture replacement policy. Crop options that fill feed voids and improve growth rates. Being aggressive on costs. (The B+LNZ Western North Island survey revealed the differences in shearing and scanning costs, for example, are significant.) Diversification of income mix. And finally a focus on measurable yield improvement.
So, while there is no instant solution – nor will all of these options suit every system – there are things that we can consider and action over the next 12 weeks – and beyond.