There is nothing like overseas travel to make you appreciate what you have at home. Recent business-related trips to the USA and the UK reminded me just what an efficient agricultural industry we have in New Zealand compared to many other countries.
Short supply chains
For a start, our supply chains are relatively short, especially for lamb. There are very few steps between the commercial breeder and processor - and market signals from the latter helps the former in their genetic selection and management decisions.
Compare this with sheep finishing systems overseas, where lambs are grain-finished on feedlots or sold through auction-marts and the supply chain is that much longer.
Producing what the market requires
I believe as an industry, we are excellent at responding to market signals, and we can see this in the consistency of the lamb we are producing.
The average lamb carcase produced in this country is 18.4kg. While visiting a processing plant in the UK, I saw lamb carcases of all shapes and sizes – highlighting the inconsistency in what is offered up for slaughter.
I recall a conversation I had with a farming leader in the UK who remarked that NZ farmers were lucky because our livestock are “like peas in a pod.” To my mind luck has nothing to do with it – it is our farmers' ability to produce what the market requires that makes our agricultural industry so strong.
This strength comes from a solid infrastructure put in place by our forefathers. Our many agricultural cooperatives have served our farming industry well over the years and have a proud history of farmer governance.
Investing in the industry
Similarly, our levy-funded organisations, such as Beef + Lamb New Zealand, DairyNZ and the Foundation for Arable Research were formed by farmers who saw the value in investing in research and development in their respective industries.
As a Director of B+LNZ, part of my role is to ensure farmers are getting a good return on their levy-investment and this investment is focused on meeting their needs in today’s environment.
I just look back on the past 10 years and think how much has changed on both sides of the farmgate. Legislative changes around the environment and health and safety have meant changes to the way we farm – as have consumer requirements, particularly around traceability and animal welfare.
As an industry, we have worked hard to ensure our red meat production systems are managed with the highest standards of animal welfare – it is in our best interests for both productivity and profitability. We now have to prove our livestock and land management is beyond reproach. While a number of processors and markets have had their own farm quality assurance programmes in place, this had led to a frustrating duplication of paperwork by farmers who supply livestock into different markets and contracts.
National Farm Assurance scheme
The recently-launched National Farm Assurance scheme is, through the Red Meat Profit Partnership, a product of collaboration between processors and industry. It is a single document that will put pay to unnecessary paperwork and farm audits and will meet the needs of the many markets NZ supplies into.
While I wonder what the next 10 years will bring, I feel confident our farmers and agricultural industry have the skills, infrastructure and ability to adapt our farming systems to ensure we continue to meet the needs of our international consumers.
Andrew Morrison is Beef + Lamb New Zealand's Southern South Island farmer director.