Meat Industry Excellence bids for B+L funding

ROB TIPA
Last updated 09:13 12/02/2014
Meat Industry Excellence group chairman John McCarthy
Fairfax NZ
REFORMER: ''At some point, you've got to pay the piper,'' says Meat Industry Excellence group chairman John McCarthy.

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The Meat Industry Excellence group is going to Beef+Lamb NZ to seek financial support from farmers to continue its battle for reform of the red meat sector.

A remit at Beef+Lamb NZ's annual meeting in Feilding on March 14 will ask farmers to approve funding help for the group from Beef+Lamb.

It follows first-up success for the group after it organised 25 farmer meetings in the North and South Islands to endorse four candidates for election to the boards of the farmer-owned co-operatives Silver Fern Farms and the Alliance Group. Three of the candidates were elected.

MIE chairman John McCarthy, of Ohakune, said farmers at those meetings raised the question of why Beef+Lamb NZ did not fund them.

"That's where the idea came from," he said.

"Given that farmers want reform and given that Beef+Lamb collect a compulsory levy off farmers, is it fair to ask farmers to pay twice?

"I don't think there's a farmer in New Zealand who doesn't think the sector needs reform," he said.

Beef+Lamb chairman Mike Petersen said it had reimbursed $40,000 expenses for MIE in the past year and further funding support would depend on farmers' feedback.

Beef+Lamb's board had approved those costs in recognition of the role MIE played in helping farmers become better informed and engaged in issues beyond the farm gate.

However, as there was no surplus funding available, any further contributions would mean diverting funds from elsewhere and reprioritising existing activities.

Mr McCarthy said that through Beef+Lamb NZ, farmers had already funded the Red Meat Sector Strategy, which came up with several key recommendations for industry reform.

"Think of it as a three-legged stool with one leg behind the farm gate, one leg to deal with aligned procurement and the third leg dealing with co-ordination in the marketplace," he said.

To date, Beef+Lamb had focused its efforts behind the farm gate and felt the procurement and marketing issues were outside its constitutional parameters.

"We're the ideal body, by default really, to implement the other two legs of that stool under the Red Meat Sector Strategy, basically realising and taking forward that investment already made by farmers around that RMSS document," Mr McCarthy said.

"No matter how smart or how hard farmers work, until we fix that stuff beyond the farm gate and get it aligned and co- ordinated behind a New Zealand Incorporated-type strategy, we're not going to get anywhere for this sector to be able to compete with dairying."

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Mr McCarthy said Beef+Lamb would be the first port of call, but the group needed to look for support across the board, including either financial support or resources from the Government and a co-ordinated approach to the banks.

"Government has a role to play in this," he said. "They can't sit on the fence any longer."

When the Meat Industry Excellence Group was originally formed, it held out a bucket for farmers to contribute to a "fighting fund" that raised $37,000 to pay initial costs of hiring rural halls.

He calculates the personal cost of his own involvement in the group at over $60,000 and says its key advisers were not charging rates they were entitled to.

"We've begged and borrowed from corporate New Zealand and they've been really generous to us," he said. "People have been incredibly supportive but at some stage you've got to pay the piper."

He said it was impossible to put a figure on the level of funding the group required because it was "a moving feast".

Mr Petersen said the role of industry-good organisations was limited by the Commodity Levies Act to ensure no intervention in the commercial activities of companies.

He said reported comments of MIE's core philosophy to drive stock supply to the co-operatives had raised questions about whether it was appropriate that levy funds collected from all famers should be directed at co- operative reform rather than reform of the wider red meat sector.

While any remit was non- binding, Mr Petersen said he would "expect the board to adopt the stance of the remit, assuming it is fiscally achievable and meets constitutional and Commodity Levies Act requirements". Mike Petersen's legacy P4-5

- Straight Furrow

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