Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s (B+LNZ) Economic Service and the Meat Industry Association (MIA) have released an assessment of processing capacity across the country and the potential impact on waiting times for farmers.
The COVID-19 meat processing protocol, which requires physical distancing between plant employees to prevent the spread of the virus, has already reduced the industry’s processing capacity by approximately 50% for ovine and 30% for bovine.
The assessment’s findings are that the already significant waits that some farmers are currently experiencing will be further lengthened which may be of particular concern for those in drought areas with backlogs but also in the Southern South Island, where there are longer waits, more stock on-farm than desirable and the growth season window is rapidly closing
The analysis forecasts extra delays to lamb processing in the South Island in April and May with processing being pushed back at least a further week. It expects that by the end of May that extra week backlog should be cleared. In the North Island, the analysis does not forecast further delays on top of what farmers are currently experiencing.
On the cattle side, there is forecast to be an extra week’s delay on top of any current backlog of prime steer and heifer in both islands in May. This extra one-week backlog is expected to carry on through to June in the North Island.
The trade bodies urge the importance of farmers talking to their processor as each will have individual plans around prime versus manufacturing.
Chief executive of B+LNZ Sam McIvor said the sector is aware there are already significant waits for some farmers. “These are particularly acute in drought areas where farmers haven’t been able to move stock to slaughter and in Southland, where there are large backlogs and the Autumn pasture growth window is rapidly closing.
“What this analysis sought to identify is what difference the processing reduction would make to that wait, and the knock-on effects across species and islands.
“It confirms there will be some extra delays for farmers to get stock processed so we are encouraging farmers to talk to their processor to understand exactly how it will affect them. The processing capacity constraint is also having a knock-on effect on dairy farmers who rely on grazing off and those farmers who look to move weaners and other young stock through to finishers. Some of those avenues are closing due to the backlog. The analysis reinforces the need for farmers to have a feed plan in place.
Chief executive of the Meat Industry Association Sirma Karapeeva added that it is still early days with the new protocol so capacity figures may change.
“Processors and their people are bedding in the new way of working and are looking at ways to optimise their processing operations over the coming weeks to better manage demand.
“We recognise the pressure many farmers are under at present and the meat processing sector is working with the Ministry for Primary Industries to see whether there are science-supported changes that could be made to the protocol, particularly as we look out to Alert Level 3, that would allow an increase in throughput, while not compromising the safety of our people in any way.
“Processors and exporters are also moving inventory out of cold storage to free up space for incoming stock. This depends on commercial contracts for export orders and logistics flows, both of which are experiencing some disruption.”