Eye-opening visit to Canada

JILL GALLOWAY
Last updated 09:55 12/10/2012
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TAYLOR GILES/FAIRFAX NZ
BACK HOME: Peter Fitz-Herbert with Clue, his heading dog.

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Peter Fitz-Herbert has just been absent from his farm at Hunterville, on a trip to British Columbia in Canada, to talk beef cattle.

He won the Beef and Lamb scholarship to the Five Nations Beef Alliance and the Young Ranchers programme.

Fitz-Herbert is stock manager on the family farm in Upper Pakihikura Rd, near Hunterville. He manages 2400 ewes and 220 breeding cattle on 600 hectares.

Actually, the area is made up of four farms, two near Hunterville, one at Waituna West and a small property in Halcombe.

"The trip to Canada was great, and a new experience. But I found I had to talk very slowly so the Canadians could understand the Kiwi accent."

Fitz-Herbert is an ebullient guy.

He's working at the woolshed, penning up rams to trim their feet. Then it is up to the farmhouse to have a chat and a cuppa.

He tidies the house a bit as the Manawatu Standard photographer and I arrive. "I am a bachelor," he says by way of explanation.

Fitz-Herbert still works closely with his father, Bill Fitz-Herbert, who lives on the property 7 kilometres away. Fitz-Herbert senior has the overview of the properties.

"He's a good farmer, but conservative, not a risk-taker. He didn't convert to deer or goats." But Bill Fitz-Herbert put the farms together, buying them all.

Peter Fitz-Herbert says he has been back in New Zealand for two years. Before that there was a stint on a dairy farm in Chile.

And he was in New Zealand prior to going to Chile.

"I was three years in the South Island on a variety of properties - sheep and beef, and then the last one, majority deer in the high country."

Before that, he was working in Australia, in the Kimberley area. It was mostly work with brahman cattle and on horseback. So Fitz-Herbert has farmed many stock types, and in lots of places.

Now he is back on the Hunterville family farm, and likes it.

But in Canada, he got to see the marketing side of beef - something new to him. He has new-found admiration for Beef and Lamb director James Parsons and Ben O'Brien, who handles market access for the farmer-funded Beef and Lamb organisation.

"They do a fantastic job. I think all farmers should know paying subs is money well spent.

"Ben and James did a very effective job of promoting New Zealand interests and opinions in the marketing area," he said.

"We need to continue to use this point of difference to distinguish us on the world stage, in relation to our grass feed marketing."

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Fitz-Herbert says the Young Ranchers Programme attracted six people from Mexico, three from Canada, three from the United States, two Australians and him.

"They were all polished speakers, very impressive and most were involved showing cattle in their associations (equivalent of our Royal Show)."

Fitz-Herbert says the meeting started with a talk about each of the countries and their beef industry.

"It was a 15-minute presentation and I learnt, though we're all different, we still have the same issues of production," he says.

"We went to a few vineyards. One was feeding the cattle in its feedlot on grape leaves. Then we went to Douglas Lake Ranch, the biggest in Canada at 500,000 acres."

Fitz-Herbert says it seems to be a two-tier beef system.

"People raise the calves, then they send them to a feedlot in the United States for finishing. In Canada and Mexico, they truck cattle across the border to be fattened on grain."

He says in Canada he saw mostly hereford-angus cross cattle, and there were some charolais and simmentals. "But it was autumn when we were there - not the season to see many beef cattle. On the big ranch, they were all grazing on the higher country."

After the Young Ranchers programme, Fitz-Herbert says they got to sit in on two days of the Five Nations Beef Alliance meeting in Banff.

He says it covered trade issues, sustainability and consumer awareness.

Fitz-Herbert says it made him more aware of this country's system.

"What we've got in New Zealand is quite good. As much as we like to criticise, it is a better version of beef production and marketing than many countries have."

He says the marketers he saw in action put the New Zealand point of view across very well.

"New Zealand is only 6 per cent of all beef traded. We punch above our weight. The marketers do an effective job. It gave me a new view of off-farm involvement."

It is all about market access for New Zealand.

Forty-five per cent of New Zealand beef goes into the United States.

But Fitz-Herbert says the alliance is also about putting beef on the plates of consumers. People switch to other forms of protein like pork or chicken if they hear negative and untrue things about beef, he says.

"Most of New Zealand beef, probably more than 98 per cent, is finished on grass. We need to market that."

Beef and Lamb pushes grass-finished beef in Asia, particularly.

"We're used to it, but some people find grass-finished beef a bit gamey."

Fitz-Herbert says angus pure and hereford prime are brands which have market penetration. "I would like to see beef marketed overseas under a single grass feed brand that is irrespective of hide colour."

- Manawatu Standard

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