Thursday, April 25, 2024

Sudden dry-off order shocks sheep milkers

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Major ovine milk company shortens season in light of tough financial times.
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One of New Zealand’s two main sheep milking companies has told its 13 farmer-suppliers to stop milking.

Maui Milk told its farmers by email in late February to start drying off their sheep.

“Unfortunately, covid and now the current global economy has been very difficult on the entire dairy industry,” Maui Milk chief executive Greg Hamill said in a statement.

“Maui Milk is one of many companies being impacted by the imbalance between supply and demand for New Zealand sheep dairy products.
“On Monday the 26th of February we decided to shorten our 2023/24 milking season early and are currently working with our suppliers on options for the 2024/25 season.”

Supplier Allan Browne, who farms 1700 ewes near Cambridge in Waikato told RNZ that the email came as a complete shock.

“Receiving an email at 4.30 in the afternoon telling us to stop milking and to dry off our sheep immediately was a big shock.

“It’s very awkward, timing wise, because we’re trying to get them pregnant, so starving them to dry them off is not really an option.”

Browne said he had put six years of investment and breeding into the business.

“We’re a couple months behind getting the milk cheque and there’s still two more months of milk that we’re not going to get into the vat, which will have a financial impact.”

The lost income will be close to half a million dollars, he said.

Fellow sheep milker, Spring Sheep Milking Co chief executive Nick Hammond, was extremely sympathetic about the situation Maui Milk and its farmer suppliers are facing.

He said within its own business, it works closely with its farmer-suppliers to ensure its milk pool is aligned with its customers and the market outlook to keep it stable.

As a result, it cannot take on suppliers from Maui Milk.

“We were asked at incredibly short notice by Maui to take milk from their farms – within a couple of hours’ notice. We have 16 farms, they have 13. It’s not realistic for us to take that on at such short notice.

“We would have if we could, but our production site was fully scheduled, all of our milk for this season is already allocated to customers who have what they need.”

That said, he said they will retain an open dialogue with those farmers and he understands Maui Milk is working with its farmers to find a way forward for next season.

He said there are two main pressures facing the market Maui Milk operates in. Firstly, the impact of covid-19 on the daigou market was huge.

“It’s still recovering, but not to the extent it was pre-covid. My understanding is that a lot of the industry – not ourselves – were exposed to customers for whom that was their primary market.”

Spring Sheep is not involved in this market, instead using cross border e-commerce to sell its products.

The demographics in China have also changed, with fewer people having children, Hammond said.

In Focus Podcast: Full Show | 8 March

Bryan’s feature guest this week is Alison Dewes, a fourth generation dairy farmer and second generation vet from Bay of Plenty. She’s involved in a successful catchment group there and is an advocate for ground-up solutions to our environmental challenges and she tells me what she’s learned while helping lead a catchment group.

Then Federated Farmers GM policy and advocacy Paul Melville talks to Bryan about whether the aspirational climate targets we have in place are causing people to disengage as we struggle to meet them.

But first senior reporter Richard Rennie, who is in Australia finding out how farmers there are tackling the key issues of climate change, advancements in genetic technologies and the constant drive for more value.

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