Two Southern farming families, with a shared passion for producing high quality lamb, have teamed up to provide the domestic market with export-quality meat. Otago Daily Times' Alice Scott reports.
While many sheep farmers around Southland and Otago are still loading lambs into the tailing chute in early November, Kent and Hayley Ebbett are loading their lambs on to the truck, destined for an oven near you.
The Ebbetts have recently joined forces with Logan and Nicole Evans in their "stalk to fork" venture called Origin South which supplies export grade lamb to the New Zealand market year-round.
The idea came to fruition about three years ago, when Logan's cousin was working in marketing, supplying clams to New Zealand restaurants.
"He lost count the number of times he would hear chefs say they would love to have access to export quality New Zealand lamb. So, he asked me, why don't we do something?" Evans said.
The couple farm 24,000 stock units in conjunction with Logan's parents Rex and Hilary at their Mt Peel farm, in the Otamita Valley, in Southland.
The business started out initially supplying just to restaurants and this year they launched a website and now also sell direct to the public.
The finished lambs are sent to BX Foods, in Oamaru, to be processed for their restaurant orders and the online products are processed at Prime Range Meats, in Invercargill and packaged at Uppercuts Butchery, in Winton.
Evans is passionate about growing quality lamb.
"Every animal we process under Origin South is either a ewe or a wether lamb which we believe has a far superior flavour to that of a crypt or ram lamb."
Ensuring continuity of supply of export grade lamb year-round was one of the challenges the Evans have had and the introduction of the Ebbetts to the business has been a complementary addition.
The Evans supply to Origin South December to June and the Ebbetts supply from July to December.
"Kent is a very savvy farmer who likes to think outside the square and do things differently. He's lambing in July and works really hard to get those new season lambs up to par for November processing," Evans said.
Each farm has the capacity to process 10,000 to 12,000 lambs a year under the Origin South label.
"We process to order and what isn't sold under our brand goes into BX's export market."
When the couple started the business they were getting around $4.80 per kilogram on the spot market.
"There was a motivation to try and see if we could get a better return for our product by marketing it ourselves. But it wasn't the main driver; to see it stay in the country and be enjoyed by local people gives us that feel-good factor.''
''As we increase our volumes through Origin South, we will eventually see a profit gain. For now, we are working on investing back into the business and getting the model right," Evans said.
"We love that we are a small family-owned business sharing our food with other New Zealand families. We look after our land, we care for our stock; despite all of the hurdles that this Government is throwing at us, we know most urban Kiwis support farmers and want to enjoy our amazing product. That's what keeps us going," he said.