Posts Tagged ‘New Zealand lamb’

Owen Ferris – New Zealand lamb’s finest salesman

November 12, 2014

The recent death of Owen Ferris marked the passing of one of the major characters of the New Zealand meat industry, but one who was relatively little known in this country because he was an Irishman based in London. During his career he sold more than 30 million carcases of New Zealand lamb and this may be an underestimate.

 

Born in 1942 in Streatham but evacuated to Ireland during the war, Owen arrived in England at the age of 19, starting work at a slaughterhouse near London before working as a butcher in Piccadilly. His connection with the New Zealand sheepmeat trade began in 1971 and he soon joined AFFCO’s UK agents Michie and White and subsequently New Zealand Farmers for whom he worked until his retirement in 1999.

 

New Zealand Farmers, located just round the corner from Smithfield and founded in 1976, was owned by Alliance and AFFCO throughout Owen’s career, although it is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Alliance Group. For nearly 40 years, NZF has been the biggest importer into the UK of New Zealand lamb and sheepmeat, moving during that period from predominantly frozen carcase trade to today’s mix of chilled and frozen cuts.

 

Owen played a major part in that success through to his retirement. He was a specialist in selling frozen carcases and cuts to the wholesale and manufacturing trade, although in his later years he had to adjust to the growing fashion for chilled cuts to the retail sector.

 

Everybody who came in contact with him speaks of his generosity, sense of humour and total commitment to the New Zealand sheepmeat industry. He often talked of trying to extract the price of a Cartier watch for New Zealand lamb legs, although he wasn’t always successful. However in contrast to the common idea of exporters undercutting each other and selling below the market, Owen always tried to sell for as high a price as possible.

 

The regard in which he was held is illustrated by his appointment as a Freeman of the City of London and a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Butchers.

 

Outside work his main interests were horse racing and rugby. As expected of an Irishman steeple chasing, especially at Cheltenham, was his passion and it was fitting that his memorial service was held in London on the same day as Cheltenham’s opening for the season. Also a poem ‘Arkle’s Battlefield’ was read at the service and, for those who don’t know, Arkle was an Irish jumper, the best steeplechaser of all time, and Cheltenham was the scene of his greatest successes.

 

None of this may mean very much to those people who are unaware of Owen Ferris’ contribution to the New Zealand meat industry (or English jumps racing!), but, without people like Owen, New Zealand lamb would not command the same level of consumer awareness it does.

 

This brief resume of his life and career put a human face to the efforts of our exporters and their representatives to sell New Zealand lamb overseas, one of our biggest exports since that first frozen shipment in 1888.

Beef + Lamb NZ expenditure on overseas promotion under review

August 28, 2014

Next year sheep and beef farmers will have their five yearly referendum under the Commodity Levies Act when they get to vote on whether they wish to continue funding Beef + Lamb New Zealand as their industry good body. (more…)

Thoughts from the UK

July 8, 2014

While in the UK briefly last week I spent a couple of nights with an old university friend who actually got a First in Agriculture at Cambridge which was the best degree achieved by any of my friends or, not surprisingly, me. He farms near the M4 in Berkshire less than 100 kilometres from London.

 

As usual when I see him, we were chatting about the state of agriculture in our respective countries. He asked me whether I needed a ‘pommie farmer whinge’ to provide some material for a column, so not unnaturally I told him to go ahead. His first complaint was about the amount of New Zealand lamb competing with British lamb in the supermarkets. I suggested the view back home was the natural seasonal fit of New Zealand product didn’t really cut across, but rather complemented, the seasonal availability of British lamb.

 

He partly agreed with me on this, but said the British sheep farmer would still prefer it if the competition from our lamb didn’t exist. I was able to provide some reassurance here by telling him how China had come from nowhere to be the biggest market by volume, if not value, for New Zealand lamb which meant there was progressively less being exported to the UK than was the case even 12 months ago.

 

An aside here which I discovered soon after getting back at the weekend: apparently sales of stockinette are back up to levels last seen in the 1980s when most New Zealand lamb exports were shipped in carcase form. This is clearly a direct consequence of the increase in sales to China, so while we can be pleased with the diversification from our traditional markets, we should be less excited by the return to a product form from the 1980s.

 

As a crop farmer who has a contract with a contractor on a similar profit share basis to our share milking model, my friend is frustrated by the delay in setting the basis for the current season’s EU subsidy. While we may think he’s lucky to be receiving a subsidy at all, as I told him, his frustration is understandable, because until he gets this information, he can’t confirm the profit share with his contractor.

 

Interestingly his calculations indicate that this year’s profits will be higher than last year, in spite of a lower price. This is because the yield this year is so much better than last. After a very wet start to 2014, the weather has been much more favourable and this year’s crop is in much better condition.

 

My friend confirmed the continuing problems being experienced by British dairy farmers who are still losing money on every litre of milk they produce. The supermarkets still dominate the price of milk, while it appears farmers don’t have the ability to supply milk at a higher price for the manufacture of cheese and other value added products.

 

A final impression from my brief visit was the lack of sheep, at least in the parts of England I drove through. In the Cotswolds where I grew up sheep appear to be almost a forgotten species with only the impressive wool churches, built in the middle ages, to serve as a reminder of where the region’s wealth originally came from.

 

But I suspect that has probably been the case for the last thirty years or more. Land use change isn’t restricted to dairy farm conversions in Canterbury and Southland.