New Zealand's red meat sector wants policy settings that address the conversion of productive farmland to forestry, tackle non-tariff barriers to trade and adopt a practical approach to water resource management.

In its pre-election policy blueprint, Beef + Lamb New Zealand and the Meat Industry Association have highlighted the importance of political parties working with the red meat sector as partners to help rebuild the NZ economy.

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Strategically, the industry 'manifesto' was rolled out in tandem with research that shows just how important red meat farming and exports are to NZ's economy and, in particular, to jobs.

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SG Heilbron Economic and Policy Consulting reports that the industry as a whole generated about $12 billion in income last year, accounted for 92,000 jobs and represented about a fifth of the country's productive capacity.

The research also reinforces the sector's importance at a regional level, in particular through the Otago and Southland regions where it supports 10,000 full-time jobs, contributing an estimated 11.5 per cent of household income.

Conversion

At the top of red meat's hit list are sound environmental policy settings.

Beef + Lamb chief executive Sam McIvor said farmers and producers had underlined their resilience during the challenge of covid-19 despite significant drought, feed shortages and the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak.

"It's important that when making any decision about the recovery and the future, the country must ask itself - what is good for exports, employment, productivity and the environment?"

McIvor said a key concern for the sector is the impact of various government policies that incentivise the conversion of sheep and beef farms into forestry, due to the negative impacts on rural communities.

"The sector wants limits on the ability of fossil fuel polluters to offset their emissions by planting exotic trees on farms."

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He said there was also a need to better understand and utilise water resources, including water capture, storage and distribution to meet both productive and urban needs.

Skills development

"We do not lack water in New Zealand - we lack the understanding and infrastructure to use it in a way that meets our economic, social, cultural and environmental requirements."

MIA chief executive Sirma Karapeeva said open and predictable market access was also vital for the ongoing success of the export-focused sector.

She said the industry, which already boasted effective in-house training systems, needed to be supported with the right skills development and framework.

"Our industry has displayed real agility and resilience and continued to export lamb, beef and co-products to our 120 markets across the globe. With New Zealand experiencing significant economic headwinds, it's critical we have a sustainable and thriving red meat sector to help the country weather the storm."

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McIvor said improved rural connectivity and continued co-investment in initiatives and research aimed at value-adding was an important part of that.

Despite the current uncertainties created by covid-19, it is "an exciting time for the red meat sector with the global population expecting to grow by two billion and protein demand forecast to double by 2050," he said.

"Globally, consumers seek out our products, thanks to the work farmers have done to establish free-range, grass-fed, natural farming systems – and it is our time to lead New Zealand's economic recovery."

- BusinessDesk