Focus on the solutions, not the negatives, is the way forward for the red meat sector, according to Beef + Lamb NZ Ltd (B+LNZ) chairman James Parsons.
Speaking at the farmer levy-funded body’s annual meeting in Northland last Thursday, Parsons acknowledged the debate and frustration over the last few years around red meat industry restructure.
“Division and infighting is something that has become characteristic of our sector. And it’s important that while we need to acknowledge the problems – problem definition is absolutely vital – we also need to focus on the things we agree on.
“Whatever we focus on enlarges, and if we continue to focus on the negatives in our sector, that will become the thing that consumes us. It’s important that we acknowledge the things that aren’t going right, but we also need to focus on the things that are going well. let’s build a pocket of excellence around those things and let them start growing and expanding.
“If we speak to the solution, we actually focus on the solutions,” he said.
Looking at the problem of lamb pricing he said, “We’re not getting enough for our lambs. There are quite a few solutions – one we’re focusing on is how do we create more demand – both in new and existing markets.”
Earlier in his speech, Parsons explained that B+LNZ currently invests $5.5 million in promotional activities on behalf of the sector and on behalf of farmers to ensure that demand is maintained and also increased for the products, adding that the organisation had commissioned a review on the topic. Its findings are now being tested with focus groups and meat companies around how farmer promotion can be done better.
“This hasn’t been an easy road – we’ve had a few harsh starts around how we can really shake up the whole promotional area and get better bang for farmers’ dollars in that area,” he said, adding that his organisation is almost ready to come out and start talking to farmers on the topic during their autumn roadshow in New Zealand.
His speech also referred to work done by the farmer-funded organisation in the areas of research and development, trade liberalisation and health and safety. Read James Parsons’ speech in full here.
Debate at meeting respectful
Commenting after the meeting on the failure of two remits put forward by Meat Industry Excellence (MIE) – one seeking funding from B+LNZ as the ginger group continues to seek structural reform and the other to replace the processor nominated directors on the B+LNZ board – Parsons said that debate at the annual meeting was respectful and about the principles that underpin B+LNZ’s governance structure and priorities for investment. He also recognised that MIE is made up of passionate and committed farmers who are pushing for a better sector.
At the organisation’s 2014 meeting, 61.5 percent of farmer votes were supportive of B+LNZ providing funding to MIE. Around $297,000 was provided to the ginger group and went towards public awareness meetings, a business plan and funding application and included $237,000 for the Pathways to Long-Term Sustainability Report and communications strategy.
“Clearly there are still farmers that want B+LNZ to support MIE, but most farmers agree with the board’s view that farmers’ levy investment should be focused in other areas, he said. While the voter turnout was 15.64 percent of the 17,027 farmers on the B+LNZ roll, Parsons said, it was largely in line with voter turnouts, where there is no significant or major company transactions for farmers to vote on.
“I’m satisfied that those farmers who participated represent the views of the wider farming community.”
He is urging the sector to pull together and focus on what can be agreed on, rather than the things that are disagreed upon.
“Lamb returns are unsatisfactory and we need to focus collectively on putting things in place that we can agree on and that will future-proof our sector for not only ourselves, but for the next generation of farmers.
“My call to MIE and all farmers is to respect that democracy has had its say and now get behind your elected directors and share your ideas constructively with us as we pull together for a better sheep and beef sector that we are proud of.
“The sheep and beef sector has big opportunities ahead that we can still seize, regardless of structural reform. They will only be grasped if we focus on areas of agreement, instead of arguing about our differences.”