Big sky thinking needed on meat and wool - Feds

It’s time for "big sky forward thinking" on the cost, marketing and competition challenges facing the New Zealand meat and wool sectors, Rick Powdrell says.

In his final address as Federated Farmers Meat & Fibre Industry Chairman, Rick told delegates to the Feds’ national conference in Wellington today that tinkering at the edges of change are not going to cut it.

Complex ownership and marketing structures make achieving agreed national strategies very difficult, but in the face of "profitability squeezed at all levels", and in the case of meat the future threat of synthetic protein, boldness and open discussion were more important than ever.

A wool sector working group Rick is involved with is soon to report to MPI on recommendations for next steps and he also sees encouraging signs that the various meat industry players recognise the need to accelerate work on a national strategy.

"It is my hope that the recent meetings between the Meat Industry Association, Beef + Lamb NZ and Federated Farmers will be the start of this process."

Recent programmes by Beef+ Lamb in market development and the red meat story, along with the Red Meat Profit Partnership programme, have highlighted a new level of industry collaboration as industry partners from farm to market have joined to work together.

"The next challenge for many of these new initiatives, once they are formulated, is to develop the implementation plans as all the work will be for nothing if visible returns are not evident."

Meat producers cannot dismiss the future threat of synthetic meat.

"It’s a viable alternative and the cost will reduce as processes are refined and volumes grow."

His recommendation was that the Federation’s Meat & Fibre Council get someone with knowledge of synthetic meat production and attributes to come and speak.

"We need to understand these products to address how we front foot our marketing of meat products against this competition."

Sheep and beef prices were back to sustainable levels and Rick told conference delegates he was seeing higher levels of farmer confidence than when he addressed them in February.

But wool was "the negative elephant in the room", with prices "dismal".

"If the desire by some to achieve significant [wool] industry change is to succeed, a very strong case will need to be created, with clear evidence of a positive outcome for all participants.

"At that adoption point, self-interests will have to be consigned to history, with a united approach adopted, and those who aren’t prepared to join the united approach are left to fend for themselves outside the tent."

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