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UK and New Zealand farming must work together to promote lamb, says ag chief

Steven Carden’s company, Landcorp, is responsible for stocking the shelves of Tesco with 170,000 New Zealand lambs every year.
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Steven Carden
Steven Carden

Steven Carden’s company is responsible for stocking the shelves of Tesco with 170,000 New Zealand lambs every year.

 

This fact alone could easily make him a corporate bogeyman for UK farmers peeved at the fact New Zealand lamb is used so widely as a loss leader by retailers over here.

 

But far from seeing the New Zealand and UK sheep industries in oppositional terms, he believes there are huge opportunities for the two nations to work together when it comes to the promotion of lamb as a premium product.

 

The wider Landcorp structure is a fascinating mixture of progressive farmers and initiatives which could provide valuable lessons for UK farming, especially in its approach to tackling the nightmare of on-farm health and safety.

 

When we met last October at Landcorp’s sleek offices in Wellington, at the southern tip of New Zealand’s North Island, Mr Carden expressed the belief farming can never afford to stand still.

 

He said: “We are selling 170,000 lambs a year to Tesco which requires us to provide 8,000 in-spec lambs per week [throughout the season]. This means having a supply chain right across our farms and having the right sheep genetics in place.

 

“We farm from the tropical Northland to the cold Southland. This means we start with early lambs in the Northland in June and July to the bottom of the South Island as the season goes on.”

 

Bristling slightly when asked whether he was content for those lambs to enter the bottom of the UK retail market, he stressed any farmer or corporate farming entity would always want more for their stock.

 

Mr Carden said: “We are selling into the UK because we have worked very hard to provide quality products as efficiently as we can. We would all like to sell it for more, but there are a lot of New Zealand farmers producing for the UK and consumers with a lot of buying power.

 

“But the aim has to be growing lamb consumption globally alongside UK farmers. If we could raise the profile and price [of lamb], this is where we would spend our marketing budget.

 

“We are not against UK farmers. We need to work together for the greater good of the product.”

 

 

China's role

China's role

Marketing Landcorp lamb through Silver Fern Farms, talk of other markets ultimately raises the spectre of China and its growing omnipresence in relation to New Zealand agriculture.

 

With Shanghai Maling buying a 50 per cent stake in Silver Fern Farms, was Mr Carden worried New Zealand’s agricultural soul was being lost to overseas investors? In a word, no.

 

He said: “New Zealand needs NZ$60-70 billion of investment to achieve its export goals and this investment has to come from somewhere.”

 

Not afraid of challenges the industry faces, he was equally bullish about the role corporate farms such as his can play in the future of the country’s agricultural story.

 

State-owned, but run as a private commercial organisation which needs to turn a profit, Landcorp has a farming portfolio which encompasses beef, sheep and deer and has a turnover of more than NZ$1.7bn (£774m).

 

Appalling farm safety

Appalling farm safety

And with its position as one of the largest farming operations in New Zealand comes a desire to set an example when it comes to best practice on farms and, in particular, where health and safety is concerned.

 

With more than 120 people having died on New Zealand farms since 2008, it has a safety record almost as appalling as the UK and an attitude among farmers which seems to disregard near-misses. It is a toxic mixture which has led Landcorp to act, both for the good of its farmers but also the image of the industry.

 

Mr Carden said: “Safety is the number one issue for farming in this country. Our safety record is not as good as it could be and it is the most dangerous industry to work in in this country.

 

“We have had three fatalities in the past at Landcorp and it has made us seriously look at how we approach health and safety on our farms.

 

“We took quad bikes off our dairy farmers and it has reduced the amount of accidents. Now we make them have two wheeled bikes or side-by-side vehicles because quad bikes are just hazardous vehicles.

 

“There was too much of a ‘she’ll be right mentality’ we needed to tackle.”

 

With the farm performance matrix for each unit having health and safety as the most prominent of the assessment criteria, there is also a drive to get farm managers and workers to plan their daily routine, with the belief that a defined work structure and clear idea of jobs which need to be done ultimately leads to fewer accidents.

 

“We are trying to attract young people into agriculture and show they can have a real career path in front of them. This will not happen if they are put off by the industry’s safety record,” he added.

 

Data monitoring of farms

Data monitoring of farms

And with its position as one of the largest farming operations in New Zealand comes a desire to set an example when it comes to best practice on farms and, in particular, where health and safety is concerned.

 

With more than 120 people having died on New Zealand farms since 2008, it has a safety record almost as appalling as the UK and an attitude among farmers which seems to disregard near-misses. It is a toxic mixture which has led Landcorp to act, both for the good of its farmers but also the image of the industry.

 

Mr Carden said: “Safety is the number one issue for farming in this country. Our safety record is not as good as it could be and it is the most dangerous industry to work in in this country.

 

“We have had three fatalities in the past at Landcorp and it has made us seriously look at how we approach health and safety on our farms.

 

“We took quad bikes off our dairy farmers and it has reduced the amount of accidents. Now we make them have two wheeled bikes or side-by-side vehicles because quad bikes are just hazardous vehicles.

 

“There was too much of a ‘she’ll be right mentality’ we needed to tackle.”

 

With the farm performance matrix for each unit having health and safety as the most prominent of the assessment criteria, there is also a drive to get farm managers and workers to plan their daily routine, with the belief that a defined work structure and clear idea of jobs which need to be done ultimately leads to fewer accidents.

 

“We are trying to attract young people into agriculture and show they can have a real career path in front of them. This will not happen if they are put off by the industry’s safety record,” he added.

 

Landcorp statistics

  • 140 farms
  • 692 employees
  • 579,871 sheep
  • 82,078 beef cattle
  • 77,526 dairy cattle
  • 105,054 deer
  • NZ$1.7 billion (£774m) turnover
  • NZ$ 1.4bn (£637m) shareholder funds
  • 158,394 hectares (391,400 acres) of owned land
  • 226,692ha (560,168 acres) of managed land (leased or share milked)
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