Whangarei Heads beef and dairy farmer Murray Jagger, one of three who are seeking election as a Beef and Lamb NZ director, sees plenty of work that needs to be done to correct some worrying trends. And that included dairy farmers.
A decline in farmer confidence in how their levies were being spent and fluctuating beef and lamb profitability were sure signs that further governance diversity was needed within the red meat sector, he said.
Mr Jagger was concerned that about half of farmers who pay a levy to Beef and Lamb NZ were not satisfied with their investment. According to the most recent (2016-16) Beef and Lamb NZ annual report, farmer confidence in the future of beef and sheep had fallen by 26 per cent, to about 30 per cent, in the previous 12 months.
"Sheep and beef farm profitability decreased by 20 per cent in that last financial year," he said. "Those figures concern me. Despite stronger market prices for sheep meat and beef over the last year, we must continue to leverage the collective value from our meat levy through industry-good activities and to deliver a more profitable red meat sector and more resilient and prosperous communities.
"Dairy farmers contribute levies, so it makes sense that they see a return," he added.
"This election is not just about the beef and lamb industry. It's about the red meat sector, so dairy farmers should register to vote and have their say.
"With dairy cattle numbers increasing 56 per cent over the last 10 years, a decline in beef cattle numbers by 31 per cent and sheep by 40 per cent, it is imperative that we ensure our levy is used effectively to provide tools, solutions and research that enhances our competitive position."
One such enhancement, he suggested, was needed in breeding practices, to provide opportunities for farmers to see an increase in the return from bobby calves.
"Most farmers currently breed for either dairy or beef. If we could breed for both, with short gestation, easy calving and better-quality meat, there would be a greater return for farmers," he said, citing Hereford, Angus and Wagyu as examples of breeds that produced high-quality meat.
His own on-farm breeding practices, coupled with his role on the Beef Advisory Group for Beef and Lamb Genetics, had inspired him to stand, when Whangarei director and chairman of Beef and Lamb NZ, James Parsons, announced he was not seeking re-election.
"Beef and dairy operators are part of the red meat sector, and all pay a levy to Beef and Lamb, with 70 per cent of beef kill coming from the dairy industry," he said. Other challenges included the price of wool and the impact of synthetic carpets and materials.
"Strong governance and diversity can bring about positive outcomes in the areas of social and political pressure affecting our social licence to operate, pending legislation, environmental issues, animal welfare, biosecurity and market access challenges, and the need for better education around succession plans, technology uses and profit opportunities," he said.
"Serious environmental and cultural pressures are hitting the sector, but these should be seen as strategic opportunities."