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Federated Farmers Meat & Fibre Chair, Bruce Wills, has expressed deep concern at the collapse in lamb numbers to 27.3 million; 4.7 million or 15% less than last spring.
“During the election campaign much was made of the 40,000 New Zealanders who left for Australia. Yet the nine lambs a minute that have vanished from New Zealand farms over the last year should be of concern to every New Zealander,” Mr Wills said.
Though the decrease in lamb numbers was expected, telegraphed by a Meat & Wool New Zealand forecast released earlier in the year, it is still further evidence of the desperate state of the New Zealand sheep meat sector. Sheep farmers are coming off their worst returns for almost five decades, with the average income for the past season being a mere $19,400.
“The sheep meat sector continues to suffer the flow-on effects from last summer’s drought and other factors, such as changes in land use, as farmers have reviewed their options when it comes to earning a living from their farming operations,” said Mr Wills.
“With such a large reduction in stock numbers, it is essential the meat processing industry continues to move down the path of planned rationalisation and ongoing supply chain efficiencies. If it doesn’t, the meat processing industry risks continuing the failed short-term ‘procurement at all costs’ philosophy which has dogged our sector for too long.
“I concede the short to medium term is uncertain given how commodities have been affected across the board. Dairy is down 24% in just the last eight weeks and United States imported beef prices have fallen rapidly. While lamb is steady for the moment the European and British economies are struggling. Our hope is that the falling kiwi dollar will provide a much needed counterweight.
“Looking to the long term, global population growth and a shortage of supply will fuel a strong demand for meat protein, especially from Asia. We are highly optimistic about the future as farmers will rebuild their flocks in response to price improvement and a growing demand for quality food.
“It is important the entire sheep sector gets behind the T150 campaign launched by Federated Farmers in September. Reaching a farm gate return of $150 by 2013 for a good mid-season lamb, will restore much needed profitability to the sector ensuring a sustainable future for sheep farmers.
“To see us through this short term challenge and onto a stronger and better industry, we must look to the creativity, determination and sheer hard-work that New Zealand farmers are known for,” Mr Wills concluded.