Thursday, December 7, 2023

NZ pork ‘under serious threat’

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The world is facing a food crisis, but how can New Zealand farmers help? Rising costs mean producers here are struggling to maintain margins and production. Over the next few days, Farmers Weekly will cover key challenges within the primary sector and how some are navigating it.
Sheffield pig farmer Sean Molloy says pork producers want to be a part of future food security for NZ but will have to keep fighting hard to even stay in business. Photo: Annette Scott
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New Zealand consumers have been enjoying commercially farmed pork produced by NZ pig farmers since the 1850s but that could be coming to an end.

Sheffield pig farmer Sean Molloy says the industry is under serious threat and he has grave concern for NZ pig farmers’ ability to remain in the game of ensuring future food security for NZ consumers.

New regulations proposed by the Government’s National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) under the Draft Code of Welfare for Pigs could well leave Kiwis reliant on important pig produced to lower standards and, in many cases, using practices that are illegal in NZ.

But as he ponders the future of his own family business, he lives in hope that before it is too late, the policy-makers will listen to farmers and realise the reality of the proposed regulations that will destroy the commercially farmed pork industry.

Molloy’s Offaly farm runs 400 sows, which produce 14,400 pigs a year. Half are fattened and the rest are sold as weaners.

The 7200 pigs that Molloy supplies over a 12-month period as pork meat into the NZ domestic food market is equal in kilograms meat-wise to 1800 prime steers or 21,000 lambs.

“We may look small but in comparison the meat we are pumping into food security is actually big business,” he said.

“We want to keep producing food to feed families but when government dreams up this dumb s*** without first sitting in the room to discuss it, we can’t sleep easy at night knowing we can keep feeding fellow New Zealanders in the future.”

Molloy has been in the game for 15 years, his father for 50 years.

“If we got left alone to farm we would be right, but never before have we had better standards in our industry, as farmers have been more educated and have more knowledge – but trusted less,” he said.

NZ pig farming is highly complex, uses sophisticated technology and applies exceptional biosecurity to ensure pig welfare.

“NAWAC is proposing draconian changes that fly in the face of sound scientific evidence, which will negatively impact pig welfare and hugely increase pig mortality,” he said.

“The proposals are not supported by science and will make pig farming uneconomic in NZ, push the price of local pork out of reach of many Kiwis and ultimately destroy the industry.

To remodel his pig farm operations is out of the question, with Molloy estimating the cost to be $3 million, only to reduce productivity.

Then there’s the uncertainty.

“We have an idea of what’s proposed, but we don’t really know for sure what’s going to be and how quickly that’s going to kick in and that’s scary because it’s got the potential to be a game-ender if they put us through what is on the table now,” he said.

Over 50 years changes in the industry have been huge, but with the Government reviewing the welfare code for the third time in 10 years, trying to plan business is impossible.

“We don’t know what we are doing, we can’t plan ahead, we are competing with imports not playing on the same field,” he said.

“We are not asking government for anything, we just want a level playing field.

“What happens now could be quite different in 10 years with technology changing so rapidly.

“We used to work to the horizon, now it’s a bloody cliff with no ladder – we can’t see where we are going.

“How do you build with the future in mind when you can’t plan for it, can’t see the horizon?

“Yes, consumers prefer buying local, but most will ultimately make purchasing decisions based on being affordable to feed their families.

“We want to be a part of food security in NZ, but we will have to keep fighting hard to even stay in business if government and its regulators don’t see reality very soon.

“It won’t be economic to farm pigs and that is a really serious prospect for NZ.”

Read more articles in the Food Security special report series here.