For more than seven decades, many millions of dollars of interest from a former wartime fund has been channelled into industry-good programmes to benefit New Zealand’s beef and sheep farmers and overall export sector.
Over the past 15 years alone, $79 million of interest from this fund, managed by the New Zealand Meat Board (NZMB), has been invested in the industry.
The NZMB tends to take a back seat in these projects – it’s a funder that adds to levy dollars to enable Beef + Lamb NZ to establish these programmes and drive them forward.
Many farmers will not even be aware of the role the NZMB plays. However, as the organisation celebrates its centenary, it is a very good time to reflect on and celebrate the significant contribution it has made and continues to make to the sector.
The hugely successful sheep improvement programme, the pastoral genomics programme, market development in the UK and Germany and early support of the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) are among the many programmes that have benefitted from this interest. The current focus is on genetic improvements to beef through the Informing New Zealand Beef programme.
The fund – standing at $81.1m as of March 2022 – was established with money left over from New Zealand’s bulk red meat purchase agreement with the UK during World War 2.
It is held and managed by NZMB as a contingency fund to help New Zealand re-enter export markets following a biosecurity incursion such as foot-and-mouth disease, or disruption to quota markets – NZMB’s other major responsibility is to manage New Zealand quotas in the European Union, United Kingdom and United States export markets.
The importance to New Zealand’s sheep and beef farmers and our wider economy of NZMB’s role in managing this contingency fund prudently and distributing the interest cannot be underestimated.
It provides an opportunity to invest where there is market failure. There are areas of the industry that cannot make investments alone, but the funds held and managed by the board mean that collectively we can.
The programmes to improve sheep and beef genetics are key example of this. It is important to invest in advancing industry genetics but there is often a disconnect because it is the breeders who need to invest to grow the value of livestock for export – but it is the productive farmers who finish the animals who see the benefits.
So, over the past 10 years, the NZMB has been putting money in “at the front end” to keep improving genetics. It has invested in that underlying infrastructure that would not otherwise receive investment, to ensure the industry can produce improved animals which will capture increased value further along the line.
Not only that, but NZ farmers can now use evaluation technology, also underpinned by NZMB investment, to benchmark genetics across most sheep breeds.
It uses a world-leading process of combining genomic and pedigree data to make a real difference for farmers. The outcomes have been transformational and the focus is now on giving beef farmers access to similar advantages, with the NZMB committing up to $1m this year towards the Informing New Zealand Beef genetics programme.
The board also considers capital applications for significant projects. A good example of this is the Red Meat Profit Partnership, another transformational piece of work that has produced outcomes including the electronic animal status declaration (eASD), the New Zealand Farm Assurance Programme (NZFAP) and the Action Networks.
The NZMB does not make these decisions alone – it seeks farmer feedback before any funds are allocated.
It’s a key part of the good robust systems NZ has in place, given to us by our parents and grandparents. Historically, industry leaders set up the systems that allow for this research and development and for NZ to support world-class farmers.
It’s important to us today as it was to those who farmed before us and, as the NZMB enters its second century, it will continue to play a vital role in our farming future.
More: Sam McIvor is chief executive of the New Zealand Meat Board.