5 minutes with Andrew Morrison

Chairman of Beef + Lamb New Zealand
Andrew Morrison
2020 has been a tough year so far, how has this panned out for Beef + Lamb (B+LNZ)?
If we look back on the season, we can almost take a BC-AD approach to the year. COVID-19 wasn’t the only challenge.
Southland had flooding and large parts of New Zealand had drought. Globally, African Swine Fever and the culling of the pig herd in China saw prices start strong and there was huge global demand for protein. We had the challenge of farming before the challenge of a global pandemic. Then we quickly had to figure out what COVID-19 meant for day-to-day work, using new language like “lockdown”, “social distancing” or “processing restriction capacity”.

We have had to make sense of each situation, understand why it happened, work out what it means for each farmer and what our options are. The year is not over yet, so we are concentrating on where we are positioning our food in the global market and preparing our farmers for another challenging winter.

What were B+LNZ’s priorities when COVID-19 made it here?
I think you’ve got to personalise events like this. Our first priority was to protect people, both within B+LNZ, on farm and within processing plants and then find ways of processing in lockdown and the new world. We had to ensure our people were feeling secure and safe. Our next priorities were: getting information to farmers about how to operate as an essential service; understanding the impacts on processing capacity and feed availability around the country; following our global markets, particularly as it relates to our ‘Taste Pure Nature’ initiative (see overleaf); and understanding the impacts of COVID-19 on environmental policy.

We worked closely with the Ministry for Primary Industries, the Meat Industry Association, DairyNZ, Federated Farmers and other partners, such as Farmlands, to come together to understand the challenges. When we get called into an issue like this, any competition is put to the side. I’ve travelled to multiple countries under trade missions in the past and wherever you go, a farmer is a farmer, it doesn’t matter if you’re in Wales or Wisconsin.

We all want to produce quality products for a reward and the same fear that we have felt, has been felt all around the world. Food production and the supply chain is very important, as are the local contractors, truck drivers, farmers and processors and we should value them.

What processes did B+LNZ have in place that helped handle the pandemic response?
An example is our digital system. Through the Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP), an electronic animal status declaration (eASD) was developed and introduced before COVID-19. Each time an animal is sent to a processing plant, the status declaration validates whether or when you’ve drenched the animal, whether it’s been fed ruminant protein etc. Some people such as truckers weren’t comfortable handling the paper versions of the declaration. Thanks to eASD, this can now be done electronically, preventing the transmission of COVID-19 through paper. It’s a great example of how forward thinking and a digital system can create options during challenging times.

What is next on the technology agenda?
We are currently focused on how we can deliver our extension services digitally over the coming months. We had a joint winter grazing workshop delivered as an online webinar with DairyNZ in Southland/Otago recently that around 300 farmers participated in. However, rural connectivity is still limited so we are in discussions with the New Zealand Government about tech spend. We are pushing for an increase in tech infrastructure as digital connectivity is a must have, especially in remote areas of the country.

How well is the industry tracking to meet B+LNZ’s livestock performance goals?
If we put the season into context, 80 percent of the North Island was in a drought situation and Southland was hit by flooding. Even before COVID-19, farmers had a hell of a season, but they’ve done a very good job of feeding their animals. If we look at an example, lamb weights at processing for the year to date are still hitting 99.5 percent of normal weight, right across the country.

Prices were very good pre-pandemic, so we are now just working through what the ‘new world’ pricing is looking

like. Farmers were proactive once the COVID-19 impacts started to emerge and recognised that they would be keeping stock for longer and would need to adjust fertiliser and other options. Taking all this into consideration, even with numbers slightly down, our farmers are to be commended as they have done extremely well.

You have talked about creating value from our land. In light of competition for land use and industry targets, what is B+LNZ doing to create this value?
Firstly, you won’t see another country in the world who addresses land use change and management like New Zealand. Our farmers are skilled at adapting their systems to meet changing market and societal dynamics. We aren’t afraid of land use change, but we want it to link to market, and not necessarily just to policy. This is because just linking land use to government policy risks loss of value creation for New Zealanders, and we want to enable our farmers to make the choice to do what they want with their land.

At B+LNZ, our philosophy is about always considering the four bottom lines when we consider land use: economic; social (our rural communities); environmental; and cultural. When these become unbalanced, then New Zealand suffers. I think industry key performance indicators, livestock performance,

Even before COVID-19, farmers had a hell of a season, but they’ve done a very good job of feeding their animals.
setting targets and then seeing how actual performance measures up is relevant to this discussion. Changes in land use and potential government environmental policies do have the influence to reduce on-farm productivity, affect the cost of production and the prices farmers receive. B+LNZ is doing a lot of work on the environmental side of things, working on low-footprint production and the development of ‘Taste Pure Nature’ and the national farm assurance programme. If the consumer values the environment and it influences their decision as to which product they choose, we need to listen to that and we need to be able to validate the farm system.

What is the global attitude to Kiwi exports at the moment?
With health being the priority, people have placed more emphasis on food security. Consumers are wanting to find out where their food is coming from, what the supply chain looks like, what the impact of production is on the environment, and how it adheres to animal welfare standards.

We sell food to parents and families who want to feed their children safe food. People want to be confident that their food hasn’t been compromise in any way and can go to sleep knowing that their food is nutritious. To that end, our research is showing that international consumers are increasingly positive about New Zealand free-range, grass-fed beef, lamb and mutton and we are continuing to monitor this response.

How is Beef + Lamb positioned to capitalise on this outlook?
We have rolled out ‘Taste Pure Nature’, most recently to China. This is a brand initiative that we have worked on with all New Zealand meat companies that validates all our production values. It is underpinned by a national farm assurance programme that we are taking to market to ensure our product and its supply chain is transparent and adhering to high environmental, personal and animal welfare standards.

As part of telling the story of New Zealand’s natural production system, the assurance programme also helps prevent those providing less than a premium product from making premium claims. If food providers want to use the Taste Pure Nature initiative, they have to be validated, ensuring transparency for consumers.

For more information on Taste Pure Nature, see www.tastepurenaturenz.co.nz