An Alliance Group workshop in Dannevirke gave farmers an insight into the latest developments, global markets and products of the co-operative.
Although the morning session was aimed at female farmers, there were also a sprinkling of men at the three-hour workshop attended by two of the Alliance Group's directors, Dawn Sangster from Maniototo and Sarah Brown who farms in the Manawatu.
Heather Stacy, head of livestock for the group, said while there had been continued downward pressure on beef prices this year, lamb numbers on farms were stable with returns likely to be "up a bit" this year."
"China is a continuing growing market and prices remain strong out of that country and our chilled market is growing," Stacy said. "The United Kingdom is still an important market for value and volume."
However, while volumes into the American market were back by 10 per cent for the Alliance Group, this compared well with the 30 per cent drop in our exports into that market.
"Lamb is good in North America, but beef is weakening," Stacy said. "Our company strategy is that what goes on globally drives the business and it's how to continue to leverage the market through people and good processes.
"We are continuing to improve costs, yields and efficiency, which in the end delivers higher livestock prices to farmers."
The real value, Stacy said was the quality of the Alliance Group's product and yield, making the most out of carcasses, with the state-of-the-art primal/middle cutting machinery at the Dannevirke plant an important part of the drive for better yields.
And while the beef market was challenging, particularly bull and prime, Alliance also had to cope with a difficult season.
"Our Levin plant double-shifted to lift the North Island capacity because this season good autumn cattle didn't come through when expected, but peaked at the same time as the cull cow season, resulting in a bottleneck at processing," Stacy said.
Dawn Sangster has been a farmer director of the group for six years and recently returned from a trip to eastern and central Europe, Scotland, England and Singapore.
In Kraków, Poland, Sangster met the New Zealand owner of Moa Burger, which sells 500 burgers a day during the week and 700 a day at weekends.
"His next niche market will be pies, which he will sell through service stations," she said.
In Paris, Sangster learned how frozen-foods importer Primex liked to work with Alliance because there were no quality problems with product.
"They are asking for more volume and don't want synthetic meat," she said.
Gemma Milne, Alliance's new-product manager, said she was currently working on how different forages lifted Omega 3 in meat.
"New Zealand lamb has really good Omega 3, fatty acid content," she said.
And it's the chilled meat market which could be the future for Alliance.
"We've trialled flying chilled lamb to Singapore and shipping it from there to the United Kingdom," she said. "We're hoping to have systems worked through to meet the Christmas chilled meat market."
Milne and the team she works with, are heavily involved in new product development, innovative products, with the added value passed onto farmers. These include lamb soups, stocks and glazes.
"As a company we are looking at how we can add value to carcasses," she said.
"We send a lot of our bones to China, receiving a low price, so we're working with a Tauranga company and producing a high end, nice lamb stock, taking the product from $2.50 a kilogram for the bones, to $15/kg for the stock.
"We are also playing around with lamb bacon as there is a real opportunity in the halal market. Lamb bacon is amazing. This is in its early stages, but the future looks good.
"As a development team it's vital we keep on top of what customers want. They want grass-fed, free-range stock and good animal welfare standards. Twenty-year-olds are the biggest consumers and the ones most concerned about animal welfare."
Milne said while there were a lot of new markets, India was the big one.
"With all new markets there are challenges, which can put a lot of strain on resources.
"Brazil is an interesting market and we made our first shipment of chilled meat into China last year. There is good potential in China and they are paying a slight premium for our chilled product."