Red Meat Sector Working Together

This week’s joint red meat sector conference in Rotorua was the first time ever farmers and processors have met at their own conference to listen and contribute to discussions on the future of their industry. On the face of it, the conference was a great success – well attended, stimulating presentations, constructive networking.

 

There was a very democratic sharing of duties between the respective chairmen, Bill Falconer and Mike Petersen, who presented a united front to the delegates and they succeeded in leading an excellently sponsored conference with the participation of a wide range of industry participants. The disappointment was the heavy weighting of processors and exporters compared with farmers who were almost, if not totally, limited to B&LNZ board and council members; perhaps this wasn’t surprising, considering the seasonal pressures and cost of attendance. But the absence of anybody from Federated Farmers at this historic gathering was a bit surprising.

 

In his opening remarks MIA chairman, Bill Falconer, made the point implementation of the sector strategy was up to farmers and meat processors, not B&LNZ and MIA, but it was the role of the coordination group to push implementation and maintain focus on the strategic themes of aligned procurement, sector best practice and in market coordination.

 

There now appears to be an acceptance the Fonterra and Zespri single seller model, so beloved of theorists, won’t work in the meat industry. There was talk of incremental gains being more achievable than the silver bullet approach which was doomed to fail. Mike Burrell, CEO of Aquaculture NZ, told the conference about the green lip mussel collaboration between five local producers which have formed a JV inChina, successfully lifting the price by over 40% after years of price stagnation.

 

This success was founded on building cohesion and capability across the industry and increasing margins by providing better value, but the collaboration has been driven by the leading companies, not by the sector organisation which has restricted itself to providing guidance and encouragement to build trust in areas like R&D, market research and law reform.

 

Burrell told the conference the JV experiment is working inChina, but it’s not for every company or every market and it’s not a disaster if not every company takes part. Collaboration is sometimes the answer, but not always, as independence can work too. He also told the audience no structure should last for ever andNew Zealand’s fixation with industry models to solve a problem is misguided. This tends to confirm the current meat sector structure can work, even if some companies take the independent route. Success does not come from choosing a particular model, but is the result of many factors, notably people, passion, commitment, trust and some luck.

 

A conversation with Ashley Cole, Western North Island Farmers Council chair and Raetihi farmer, gave me a strong insight into her success, because she provided evidence of all those success factors, including the fact she cared enough about the sector to stand for the Farmers’ Council and to come to the conference. She believes passionately in the need for improvement behind the farm gate, citing her farm practice of lower stocking rates which gave her a better docking percentage than her neighbours while being able to finish stock on her hill country farm. She is also absolutely committed to the principle of industry alignment.

 

Frank Bunce, ex All Black, emphasised the importance of teamwork, each person knowing their role and the ability to identify causes of problems, combined with leadership, as key aspects of great teams. The red meat sector still has a way to go, but it is fortunate to have its present crop of leaders to guide it through the path to a successful future.

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