We had to learn the hard way, says goverment minister

NEW ZEALAND Minister of Agriculture Jim Anderton spoke of the hard lessons that the country learnt in moving from a subsidised to a non-subsidised nation.

Subsidies per head of livestock used to be given and the country ended up with 70 million sheep. "The process of adjustment was not easy but today sheep farming is highly pro?table, with more and higher quality sheepmeat produced from not much more than half as many animals." said Mr Anderton."The average lamb carcase weight is now over 16 kgs with consequentially higher returns to farmers.

"There were lessons, however, from the adjustment costs and it was important to make changes before they are imposed.

"Our agriculture is now customer focused. In the global trading environment, our customers' key concerns are price and quality. Productivity gains are vital to reducing costs. Innovation is the key to rising productivity. New Zealand has invested heavily in research and development, especially in genetics. Better breeding and better farm management have led to a lambing rate increase of 20 per cent since 1990."

He suggested that New Zealand and the UK had a lot in common in selling products into a globabl market. Neither can rely on lower prices for success, products have to be better quality and need to be market led.

"Markets change of course - once our customers had the time to roast whole legs of frozen lamb.

"Few will cook a roast as often today. Consumers are increasingly seeking ready to cook diced lamb in sauce, chilled and vacuum packed. So this is what our agricultural producers must supply.

"In just over a decade NZ lamb exports went from 80 per cent frozen carcases to 95 per cent cut to speci?cation and retail ready", he said. Customers are also asking searching questions about production processes concerning sustainability, ethics and animal welfare. Both the UK and New Zealand were well placed to meet these expectations, he concluded.