Do it yourself, Nathan Guy tells farmers

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy has told sheep and beef farmers they are on their own - the Government will not intervene in meat industry reforms.

Change would have to come from the industry itself and would not be imposed by the Government, he told the Beef + Lamb NZ annual meeting in Feilding.

His comments came in response to a call from the Meat Industry Excellence (MIE) reform group, which appealed to him to acknowledge the crisis confronting the sheep and beef sector.

The group said sheep and beef farmers were being squeezed out by dairying and called on the minister to organise a summit bringing industry people together to explore realistic solutions.

MIE chairman John McCarthy said a healthy red meat sector was in the national interest and the Government had a key role to play in co-ordinating the summit.

"Everyone is aware, that beyond the farm gate the existing model leaks value, basically be- cause of the large number of players competing at both ends of the value chain."

Mr McCarthy said MIE's push for contracted and committed supply was consistent with the recommendations of the Red Meat Sector Strategy.

Sheep breeders were reporting demand for stud rams was down by up to 50 per cent this year.

Land conversions to dairy farming, especially in the South Island were eroding traditional sheep and beef land at a rate of about 6 to 7 per cent a year.

"Dairy is eating our lunch, but in the interests of New Zealand's environment and long-term economic diversity, we need to ensure that the red meat industry (including deer) turns around and reaches its potential."

Mr McCarthy said New Zealand stood to capture a potential $6 billion in export value if the red meat sector could achieve what the dairy industry had achieved.

"To pretend the red meat sector (and sheep and deer in particular) is anything other than a crisis is to fool ourselves. It's time the industry got together to take immediate steps to secure the sector's future."

Meanwhile, Sheep Breeders' Association president Ian Stevenson, of Cheviot, confirmed that a national decline in sheep numbers had put pressure on ram breeders and inevitably some will "drop by the wayside". "It's true in some areas (ram) sales are down by 50 per cent," he said. "But it's not a country-wide blanket approach I wouldn't think."

He said some ram breeders had sold more rams than last year but he conceded that ran against the national trend and probably related to breeds sold.

"It depends where ram breeders live. If you live in an area where dairy conversions are rampant, it is inevitable you will lose some clients. And the way we're going, it's probably going to get worse."

Mr Stevenson said the underlying problem in the meat industry was overcapacity, or too many meat processing plants competing for too few stock.

Straight Furrow