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Meat & Fibre - Climbing to the top

Meat & Fibre - Climbing to the top

Speech by Jeanette Maxwell Federated Farmers Meat & Fibre Chairperson, to Federated Farmers Meat & Fibre Council at Federated Farmers AGM, Palmerston North

It is my pleasure to welcome you here to my last Meat & Fibre AGM as your chair.

Since our last AGM, in Ashburton last year, there has been some significant engagement within the industry and amongst our Meat & Fibre Council.

I would like to thank our incredible Policy Advisors, David Burt and Sarah Crofoot, for their game changing approach and hard work to engage and inform our members. I would also like to thank Vivi, our Events Manager, for making today possible and the staff at Federated Farmers, as my job would not have been achievable without you all. Mostly though, I would like to thank you all for your continued support over my time as Meat & Fibre Chairperson. My time at Federated Farmers has been some of the most challenging and enjoyable years of my life.

As I step down, I would like to celebrate what we have achieved across all my portfolios over the past three years. Recently the Goat Industry held a conference where the whole industry was represented. We started with Mohair and after three years we have finally got a more rounded goat industry group representation.

Health and Safety has been a hot topic over the past three years and it is no secret that the farming community has a high death rate. As a result we have been under the regulatory microscope. Whilst no death is acceptable, and accident statistics can be volatile, we are seeing a positive trend down in farm deaths since 2008 by 35 percent. Whilst the numbers are still too high, farm deaths are trending down. We are seeing a culture change from the ‘she’ll be right attitude’ to farmers taking responsibility for their staffs wellbeing as well as their own. Proof of this attitude change is not only in the declining death toll but in an increase in farmers purchasing our Health & Safety Plans by a whopping 418 percent for the five months to May compared to the same time period last year. Also our Drug & Alcohol Policy sales were up by 170 percent increase for the five months to May compared to the same time period last year. Farmers do care about the health and safety in the workplace.

These positive figures come as a direct result of the active education, communication, and advocacy work the Federation has done in this area, as well as other organisations. It proves that the carrot rather than stick approach does work. Federated Farmers aims to keep farmers out of the red tape, so thank you for responding and taking this issue seriously. We are now partnering with other organisations in this area to continue the good work.

Regarding tertiary education, we have been working with Primary ITO as part of the Government Tertiary Qualifications Review, to give our young people the best start, and every opportunity to enter the primary sector. We are part of the teams influencing what qualifications look like and tailoring these to deliver the skills industry needs.

Our mental health, ‘When Life’s a Bitch’, campaign has seen enormous growth in awareness of the state of farmer’s mental health and the staggering number of farmer suicides. The latest statistics show that whilst there has been a decrease in farmer suicides, rural suicides are still 18 percent higher than urban, per 100,000 population. As a result of this campaign Federated Farmers has been part of forming the Farmer Mental Wellness Strategy Group, alongside other industry stakeholders, to improve and maintain the mental health and wellbeing of farming communities so they are happy and prosperous. This campaign, along with the Mental Health Group work, prompted the John Kirwan campaign to reach out to the farming community, of which they now have a section of their website devoted to rural mental health and wellbeing. A lot can be achieved by the simple act of communicating.

Communication is where it all starts, be it dealing with depression, trying to get your dogs to behave, or running a business. This is where we kicked off with our Meat Industry Options Paper at the beginning of the year. When you want to make change there needs to be conversations – we’ve talked to you about industry options, so what happens next?

The next step is putting your feedback to good use, and committing ourselves to driving change. The consultation period for the Meat Industry Reform has been one of the more complex and difficult mountains to climb, and right now I’d say we are at base camp, with our Meat Industry Options Discussion Paper our map.

Following the consultation over our Options Paper we now have a clear indication from you of where the industry could improve and what is integral to the success of your farming businesses. Whilst our central message has been a need for greater cooperation, the consultation period has identified a gap in understanding, and communication between the stakeholders.

Here is the next foothold in our summit.

We have a valuable industry, worth $6 billion to our economy, the sum of 35 Avatar movies, but some of that value isn’t being felt behind the farm gates. To see greater returns there needs to be better communication and understanding within the industry. An example of this that we identified is the relationship between the farmer and their processor.

If you have been supplying the same company for the past 20 years and are going to continue to do so, you might consider yourself committed, but the company doesn’t necessarily know your history or your future intentions. So unless they are communicated no one is going to benefit or be able to add value from it. Likewise with the processor to the farmer; if the farmer doesn’t understand the processors intentions or commitment, then you are unlikely to understand the value in committing to their business, and may chose to follow the spot market.

As Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, famously said,

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

In any kind of committed relationship, it doesn’t make sense to go into it blind. Throwing your eggs into one basket without knowing how reliable it is or understanding its purpose, could very well see them drop out the bottom.

Yes commitment is important but it must be accompanied by communication for it to be of any value to either party. Your responses revealed that:

· 80 percent of respondents considered their meat company’s strategy to be important,

· Yet 43 percent of respondents could not describe the strategy of the company they supply.

To get central shifts in behaviour and maximise sustainable profitability we need to better understand and align strategy values between suppliers and the company they supply. There appears to be a genuine desire to come together with

· 84 percent saying they are committed to a company at least seasonally

But the communication breakdown is preventing that commitment from being leveraged from.

There are a lot of ideas floating around about what route should be taken to reform the industry, and communication needs to be addressed.

A possible way around this is the strong relationship, identified by members, with their stock agent/drafter. For all segments of the survey, the relationship with the agent/drafter was a huge influencer, even above the return price for their product. This means there are considerable opportunities to work with the agent to bridge the gap and keep the communication channels open. We have started down that route and will have ongoing communication with them.
Moving forward, we know the value lies in commitment and a weakness is communication, so we will be looking at ways to work with stakeholders to better align the two in our next round of consultation.

We are already great producers, we just need to capitalise on that.

As Thomas Edison said,

“Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.”

But our story is not all about protein. We farm a dual purpose animal and whilst the red meat side is performing, its fibre counterpart has yet to reach its full potential.

We are also world leaders in producing fibre. We are the world’s third largest wool exporter, supplying 45 percent of the world's carpet wool.

Our industry is now worth $700m, after the average value of raw wool exports increased by 38 percent from 2010 to 2014. Our China exports have had a lot to do with this accounting for half of our wool clip, but the last tariff on wool won't be lifted until 2019, which puts natural wool behind the 8-ball. Interesting to note – while lamb has climbed from $3.04 per kg in 2000 to $5.56 per kg in 2014, wool has risen very little by comparison.
(Site Meat & Fibre report)

An industry good body could ensure wool's intrinsic values are recognised here in New Zealand and abroad.

The Wool Levy Group, led by our very own Sandra Faulkner, is looking to reintroduce the Wool Levy, which was extinguished in 2009. A Wool Producers Referendum will be held in October this year, and if successful, aims to build the worth of wool to those who grow it. The farmer consultation process officially launches today.

Whilst, the previous levy was voted down, we are now in a different place and this levy is about:

· Provide an overview of and industry investment in research and development

· Leverage Government Industry funding

· Provide a shared vision for the sector

· Be a point of initial contact for pan industry information

· Provide a sounding board for governing bodies as well as corporations and institutions

· Assist with trade policy and negotiation to gain market access and reduce barriers to entry

· Help us meet our international obligations to global industry good activity alongside other wool producing nations.

To me, that is a pretty good mission statement. We want to inspire and invigorate the new generations of wool growers who are not currently engaging with or influencing the direction of the wool industry.

With 154,000 tonne of wool produced in New Zealand each year, we are looking at a potential $4.6 million, based on 3c/kg levy. This is of course if the 17,000 sheep farmers eligible to vote all agree.

Voting is the expression of commitment to ourselves and our industry, no matter which box you tick. Make sure you are informed and bring your best pen this October.

I now leave you to take the next step in both the Red Meat Industry and Wool Industry reform. In the meantime, I’m not going very far, I will still be chairing the NZ Agricultural Health and Safety Council, the Rural Communities Trust, and Deputy Chair of the Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa NZ, as well as remaining involved in the Farmer Mental Wellness Strategy Group and Wool Levy Group. Finally, if you didn’t think that was enough to keep me busy I’ll remain on the Primary ITO Industry, Sheep, Beef & Deer Industry partnership group, and part of the mid Canterbury Feds Executive, ensuring there is better industry training for the next generation.

We live in a sublime piece of the world and have the privilege to work at its very heart. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with you all – it has been both inspiring and rewarding learning from the wealth of knowledge in this room, and I thank you.

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