Sheep farmers face uncertainty

It has been a tough six months for Hawke’s Bay farmers as dry conditions, a facial eczema outbreak and Brexit-related market uncertainty take their toll.
Monday, 8 August 2016

Beef + Lamb New Zealand Eastern North Island farmer director George Tatham says El Nino weather patterns started to bite last autumn and continuing dry weather is concerning many, particularly as spring approaches.

Facial eczema effects will linger

Tatham says facial eczema has been a big issue this year, with the region experiencing the worst outbreak in a long time.

“The effects of this disease will continue to be seen throughout spring, with lower lamb numbers and more animal health problems in affected stock.”

Waipukurau farmers take big award

On a positive note, Tatham says it was fantastic to see Waipukurau farmers James and Jane Hunter win the Blackdale Stud Sheep Industry Supplier of the Year Award at this month’s B+LNZ Sheep Industry Awards (see news links below).

The couple has been one of the top two Lean Meats' suppliers for the past four years, committing all of their home-bred lambs and the bulk of their trading lambs to contracts. This allows them to supply lambs 12 months of the year on the high-value chilled market.

Tatham says the Hunters are a great example of how a mutually-beneficial relationship can occur between an exporter and a farmer supplier.

Clover trials underway

From October, three North Island East Coast farms will be trialling the use of annual and perennial clovers to help realise the productive potential of their uncultivatable hill country, Tatham says.

“The farms are part of B+LNZ’s Demonstration Farm programme, which seeks to identify tools and practices that improve farm profitability. The outcomes of these clover trials will be used to establish best-practice management guidelines and will be shared with the wider farming community through field days and regular reports.”

In a new Demonstration Farm initiative, all three farms will be working together on the same project, although each will have a different focus: one will be looking at establishment methods; another at management; and a third at how the farm system can be adapted to fit the requirements of annual clovers in particular.

Brexit fall out

Outside the farm gate, farmers are nervous about the effects that Brexit may have on future sheep meat pricing, Tatham says. “Already, pressure from exchange rate changes is having a negative impact on sheep meat pricing for the upcoming season.”

He says the Brexit decision was a surprise. “Last year, more than $2 billion of red meat and wool exports were sent to the EU (including the UK), which represents half of New Zealand’s global sheepmeat exports by volume. We cannot predict with any certainty how Brexit will affect this market.

“However, there are a lot of talented people working on our behalf to retain market access and, under World Trade Organisation rules, access into the EU and UK cannot be eroded as a result of Brexit. But only time will tell how this will play out.”

George Tatham is Beef + Lamb New Zealand's Eastern North Island farmer director.