Monday, March 4, 2024

Long tail to processing season

Neal Wallace
The meat processing season could be up to 12 weeks longer than last year, prolonged by multiple and unexpected challenges.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Meat Industry Association chief executive Sirma Karapeeva says the industry shortage of 2000 workers has been exacerbated by staff isolating or having to stay at home to look after family members due to covid.

The meat processing season could be up to 12 weeks longer than last year, prolonged by multiple and unexpected challenges.

The nation’s meat companies have had to deal with disrupted supply chains, a worker shortage, covid infections among staff, drought in Southland and Otago and now the shutdown of the Chinese city of Shanghai to contain a covid outbreak.

Silver Fern Farms Fern Farms chief supply chain officer Dan Boulton told suppliers Omicron has reduced its available processing capacity more than expected.

“To date the processing impact from Omicron has been felt similarly across both the North Island and South Island networks, however at this point South Island communities are experiencing a longer tail to Omicron.”

Seven weeks into the outbreak, beef capacity across individual SFF plants has been between 60% and 81%, sheep 63% to 86% and venison 77% to 100%.

Boulton says priority is being given to farmers facing dry conditions with stock being trucked to plants that have spare capacity.

But that too is being hampered by limited space on Interisland ferries.

Fewer carcase cuts are being recovered to maximise plant throughput, more night shifts and Saturdays are being worked, livestock agents are arranging markets for store stock and grazing is being arranged for cull cows to delay processing until later in the season.

Boulton says it has extended incentives and benefits for staff and the industry has worked with the Government to get access to 500 foreign workers.

“While these workers have been warmly welcomed, they won’t be an immediate silver bullet for our current challenges as they only represent a relatively small amount of our total workforce and it is late in the season.”

Shipments of NZ beef and veal from January to end-March were 20% below the same period last year due to lower production due to omicron.

Heading into the later half of the season, Beef + Lamb New Zealand figures reveal the beef kill is 9.1% behind last year, lamb 14.8%, mutton 12% but venison is 4% ahead.

Alliance’s general manager livestock and shareholder services Danny Hailes says capacity across its plant network is recovering, however it remains a challenge in Southland.

“Our Mataura plant is operating both shifts and overtime and continuing to work through the backlog of animals.

“A number of our Lorneville plant employees are or have been isolating or having to stay at home to look after family members.

“This is creating resourcing challenges, affecting the plant configuration and reducing effective processing capacity.”

Plants are working overtime and farmers are using Alliance’s free store stock facilitation service to move animals between breeders and finishers, particularly from Southland to Canterbury.

“Additional cattle processing capacity is scheduled to be added at our Lorneville and Pukeuri plants over the next couple of weeks.”

Hailes says Alliance is offering minimum price contracts in which suppliers can choose the day of supply and accept either the contract or schedule price.

Meat Industry Association chief executive Sirma Karapeeva says the industry shortage of 2000 workers has been exacerbated by staff isolating or having to stay at home to look after family members due to covid.

Karapeeva says recent Government approval of 500 extra foreign workers will help alleviate pressure and allow processors to capture value it is currently unable to.

She hopes officials will quickly process visas.

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