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Making connections...Beef and Lamb New Zealand Southern South Island director Andrew Morrison visited the United Kingdom recently. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Meeting with group leaders from farmers associations in the United Kingdom was a great learning curve for Beef and Lamb New Zealand (BLNZ) Southern South Island director Andrew Morrison.

Mr Morrison and three other representatives visited Scotland, Belgium, England, Ireland and France earlier this month.

The visit was an annual event for BLNZ.

Chairman James Parsons always attended and Mr Morrison went along as a director.

Mr Morrison said the visit was a relationship-building exercise as the European Union and the United Kingdom markets were very important to the sheep and beef industry.

He said the visit was not purely to discuss Brexit but that was a topic during the visit.

“It was just a matter of meeting with a lot of farmer groups and officials to get a feeling of where their thoughts are on Brexit going forward,” Mr Morrison said.

The group met with the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) for the UK and Wales, the Federation Nationale Ovine in France, the Irish Farmers Association, Quality Meats Scotland (QMS) and the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB).

Mr Morrison said the groups view BLNZ as their competitor but a lot of really positive discussion was had about growing the lamb category and seasonal supply.

“We were just speaking about our experiences of reducing subsidies in the ’80s and really getting a focus on external trade,” he said.

“We’ve got some really great relationships with these guys.”

From a New Zealand perspective BLNZ found that for trade to work successfully there had to be government, industry and farmers aligned together.

Mr Morrison said it was necessary to have the three links in the chain to make it all work.

For example, France only produce 40% of what they consume in lamb meat.

If France were to not have any imports coming in they would be short of product, he said.

The southern hemisphere and the northern hemisphere produce grass at different times of the year so there would be lamb meat at different times of the year.

Most of the farming leaders understand the complementary nature of the southern hemisphere supply when no product was available, Mr Morrison said.

“A lot of farmers said their goal was to increase lamb consumption as opposed to chicken consumption, or pork consumption, and increase price.”

Every sheep farmer wanted that to happen, it was just a matter of deciding whether to do it together or in isolation, he said.

“That was probably the whole crux of the discussion, as we go into a Brexit, our goal still is to increase consumption and increase price for farmers, so what can we both do to achieve that?”

For example, if France were only producing 40% of consumption and shutting everyone else out, that would not increase consumption, Mr Morrison said.

He said it was about working to each hemisphere’s strengths following the curve for production.

“At the end of the day we’ve got to provide the best product to the consumer.”

The BLNZ group took time to meet the Brussels-based New Zealand ambassador, David Taylor.

They also looked around supermarkets.

During their time in France, they had tours of farms, trying to understand the challenges they had and discussions of complementary options.

They also visited an Irish farm in the Republic of Ireland and had a tour of Dunbia meat plant that processed some of New Zealand product for UK retailers.

They met Meat Industry Ireland and Irish Farmers Association representatives.

Mr Morrison said Ireland had some “really interesting challenges” with Brexit.

The Republic of Ireland is in the European Union and Northern Ireland is British which falls into Brexit.

Ireland would be the only European Union country with a land border in it.

Ireland has an export profile very similar to New Zealand’s, Mr Morrison said.

Mr Morrison said New Zealand is a third party in Brexit as the United Kingdom and the European Union is a very important market.

They also met with the Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, which runs Origin Green. Bord Bia checks the carbon footprint every farm in Ireland every 18 months.

They have an audit system in place which covers food safety traceability, animal health and welfare, and a range of environmental considerations.