Thursday, August 18, 2022

Fonterra vows no calf left behind

Fonterra will require that all non-replacement calves enter a value stream from June 2023 onwards.

Fonterra’s Farm Source director Richard Allen says 15 months’ notice is being given to assist a minority of suppliers who face big challenges in compliance.

Fonterra will require that all non-replacement calves enter a value stream from June 2023 onwards.

It will effectively ban on-farm euthanasia of calves happening without humane reasons, to make sure every calf born is accounted for.

The value streams are dairy-beef finishing, bobby calf collection for veal production and the petfood industry.

The new obligations for the 2023-24 season are foreshadowed in this year’s Terms of Supply notice issued to all suppliers.

Fonterra’s Farm Source director Richard Allen said 15 months’ notice is being given to assist a minority of suppliers who face big challenges in compliance.

He contended that most farmers would not need to alter their current practises.

Dairy farmers who calve at different times of the year, when calf collections are not operating, are irate with Fonterra’s move.

Autumn calvers in Northland is one sizable group that haven’t had collections running in all districts and will probably need to build larger calf barns and employ more calf rearers.

One said the likely cost to his business would be in the tens of thousands of dollars, just to retain animals that have no market value, such as non-replacement Jersey heifer calves.

“Calf rearing, if even up to 10 days and collection, requires skills and competence to avoid sickness and I will have to house 200 or more, instead of 80 at present,” the farmer said.

“Options like sexed semen and dairy-beef sires do not completely remove those types of calves that nobody wants to rear, so will the meat companies commit to killing these?”

He thought the backlash to Fonterra’s announcement a couple of weeks back was rather muted because no farmer wanted to be identified as one who killed calves, albeit legally, humanely and properly.

Allen said there was no doubting the animal rights movement and its campaigns were influencing Fonterra’s customers and consumers of dairy products.

“We have surveys showing around 60% of consumers now put animal wellbeing in their food purchasing decisions,” he said.

“In the past five years there was a 90% increase in the number of food products using animal wellbeing claims.”

Fonterra could not wait for public opinion to become an issue and force changes and needed to protect its leading position.

It had signalled a lead-in time and was working with meat companies and interested parties and investing in research and development.

He said on-farm compliance would likely be self-certification for the 99% of farmers who are responsible and diligent, along with a follow-up of those who didn’t make returns.

Asked if this could have been handled in the Co-operative Difference incentive scheme, he said the critical nature and urgency of the issue warranted a minimum standard within 18 months rather than an optional extra.

Federated Farmers national dairy chair Wayne Langford said a small percentage of Fonterra farmers would be affected by the new requirement, but their voices needed to be heard.

In the South Island late season calves beyond the pick-up times would be an issue, he said.

Fonterra was working with the meat companies and calf industry interests to increase the value of bobby calves.

It had put a stake in the ground and done what farmers regularly called for – “tell us what markets want from milk producers?”.

Those farmers adversely affected would get some grace time to make changes, he hoped.

Bobby calves returned a reasonable price to farmers and meat companies added the value.

“Those calves are not going to waste,” he said.

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