Conference highlights opportunities for NZ’s red meat sector

// Industry

Climate change, carbon, innovation and opportunities were themes that emerged from the Red Meat Sector conference held in Christchurch this week. Over 300 people attended the conference, where attendees heard about global trends.

red meat conference 2022

Speakers talked about the opportunity for New Zealand to command a premium as the world’s most efficient producer of red meat and the emergence of technologies to address the challenges facing the sector such as labour, regulation, consumer trends and climate change.

Throughout the conference, there was recognition of the scale and pace of the regulatory changes facing red meat producers, but there was optimism about the future of the sector and its ability to position itself in the global market.

First speaker, Greg Smith, CE of Bremworth Carpet & Rugs, set the scene by addressing the conference’s theme ‘reinventing for a sustainable future’.

The former CEO of Icebreaker and senior executive with Michael Hill Jeweller, Smith talked about opportunities emerging from adversity and having the courage to take a stand. 

“Either disrupt or be disrupted.”

In 2020, Bremworth went all in and committed to producing 100% wool carpet.

“We couldn’t compete at the cheap end of the market so we took a drop in revenue in order to grow again. That took courage.”

Targeting consumers who are interested in lifestyles of health and sustainability, Smith says these consumers think about well-being and involve themselves in brands that care about the planet. They are also interested about transparency.

“It’s ok not to be perfect, but if you can explain the path that you are on you get credit for that.”

He says while sustainability is important, so too is the need to be profitable.

“We can’t make meaningful change unless we generate profits out of it.”

Bremworth is also focused on reducing waste which in turn helps drive profitability.

Smith believes carbon is a global trend that industries need to pay attention to, but more work was needed around carbon accountancy.

“I don’t think the way we are accounting for carbon is correct.”

But he does believe consumers are willing to pay a premium for wool and other products produced with a net zero carbon footprint.

He says a lot of farms in New Zealand are probably already at net zero, but apart from Silver Fern Farm’s, there is no branding around this.  

The conference featured four panel discussions; Innovation for the Future, Challenges and Opportunities, Technology for Climate Response and Is the Sector doing enough to respond to Climate Change?

All included speakers talking about cutting edge technologies and new ways of thinking to minimise waste, reduce energy use, drive efficiencies and address labour shortages throughout the supply chain while helping farmers respond to challenges such as regulatory changes and market entry.

Tim Edmonds, Head of Advisory for Simply Energy talked about opportunities along the supply chain (processing plants and transport) to transition to alternative energy sources such as hydrogen in a cost-effective way.

Dr Sinead Leahy, Principal Science Advisor for the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre discussed the evolving technologies to help reduce methane emissions from livestock. These include genetics, methane inhibitors and wearables.

Talking to the topic “Redefining Your Brand” Mike Pretty, Chair of the NZ Food and Grocery Council, spoke about global trends in the wake of the Covid pandemic which includes the growth on on-line shopping, the move to keyboard dining with more people working at home and the rise in flexitarianism.

While one in three New Zealand households claim to be reducing their meat intake for health and cholesterol concerns rather than environmental reasons, the top 10 growing categories were all highly processed foods such as carbonated drinks and confectionary. 

Like Smith, Pretty says carbon is huge and consumers are looking for brands with a reduced carbon footprint.

“It really is important.”

Speaking virtually, Dr Frank Mitloehner, professor and air quality specialist at UC Davis, explained the difference the between methane as a flow gas (it is destroyed in the atmosphere) and carbon dioxide as a stock gas (it accumulates) and the inappropriateness of GWP 100 as an accounting system for methane.

He says methane reductions should be encouraged so farmers can be part of the climate solution, although he believes policy to encourage reductions should take a carrot and not a cane approach.

Attending a Red Meat Sector Conference for the first time, Northern Waikato sheep and beef farmer Ian Evans says it was a great opportunity to listen to speakers across a range of topics at a relatively high level. He felt the overall vibe of the conference was very positive.

“From a farmer's perspective, it was a real privilege to listen to such a high-calibre of speakers on subjects as diverse as IT and energy while the speaker from the NZ Food and Grocery Council added a lot of context to what we, as farmers, are doing.”

He said the having such a wide range of people in the same room was pretty unreal and he was hoping more farmers would take the opportunity to attend future conferences.

Read more about Dr Mitloehner’s presentation in next week’s e. Diary.

The videos from all the presentations at the Red Meat Sector conference will be on the B+LNZ website from next week.