Farmers to decide fate of sheep + beef project

JON MORGAN
Last updated 05:00 30/01/2013
Lambs
DECISION TIME: A $65 million project to lift the nation's income from sheep and beef farming will stand or fall on a farmer poll.

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A $65 million project aimed at lifting the nation's income from sheep and beef farming will stand or fall on a farmer poll in five weeks.

The vote by sheep and beef farmers will be counted at Beef + Lamb New Zealand's annual meeting at Wanaka on March 8.

The project, which brings together leading members of the highly competitive meat industry, aims to improve farmers' business management, according to Beef + Lamb chairman Mike Petersen.

Beef + Lamb wants to fund its $19.7m share from a combination of existing funds and by drawing on $10m of Meat Board reserves.

The $82m reserves include $55m set aside to cope with the aftermath of a foot and mouth disease outbreak.

If the vote did not favour the project it would not go ahead, Petersen said. "But I've heard nothing but enthusiasm for it from farmers."

The seven-year project includes meat companies Silver Fern Farms, Affco, Alliance Group, Anzco Foods, Blue Sky Meats and Progressive Meats, ANZ Bank, Rabobank, corporate adviser Deloitte and Beef + Lamb.

Under the Government's Primary Growth Partnership programme, the Primary Industries Ministry will put in $32.4m.

Petersen said talks to bring together the partnership had been "very collaborative, very collegial".

Once approved, the first move would be research into how to get "behavioural change" from farmers. "It may be that the best way is to work one-on-one with professionals or service people."

The most crucial part would be ensuring as many farmers as possible were given a chance to lift their game. "We're going to have a big range of people contacting farmers. There's a lot of people going up driveways, whether it's the stock agent, the fertiliser rep, the accountant, or the vet. It's about upskilling those guys.

"An example would be when the banker is discussing things with farmers, they could guide them to online tools around business management."

Part of the improvement would be ensuring these agents talked a common language. "People talk about productivity on farm or efficiency on farm but they're talking different languages and it's hard for people to judge how they're performing relative to others."

The industry's top performers would be used as targets. "They're making very good money and they're doing it by using available knowledge. We want to see a better uptake of what's already out there."

Some of the funding would also go into new farm business management and planning tools.

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Beef + Lamb's strategy would also change, working more alongside meat companies to lift farmers' performances.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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