"Future of sheep farming not flash"

Messages back from the Standford University boot camp have been slow to filter back to the grass roots farmers, but John Brakenridge of NZ Merino pulls no punches when he states that if the sheep industry does not change it could disappear from the farming scene in this country.

His message of stop talking about structure and start doing things that concentrate on scale and market connections and working together more, rather than a single company versus the world as we do now.

Farmers have heard these messages before but collectively as an industry little progress has been made.

He also comments that the importance of contracts, brands and a partnership approach has been some of the success for the merino sector.

This industry is endeavouring to reinforce these gains by producing a super sheep that meets many of the specified products the market wants and has invested in the genetic tools and personel to achieve these goals.

As sheep farming once again slips back into unsustainable prices in meat and wool, is the time now ripe for significant change in the sheep meat industry similar to that being advocated by Brakenridge and his "boot camp" team?

Are you optimistic that the current model that relies solely on a supply shortage will see a quick turnaround in sheep farmers profits? Share your views.

The potential for NZ's primary sector is significant but the industry must get better at how it takes its products to markets, both individually and collectively, NZ Merino Company chief executive John Brakenridge tells the ODT.

Imagine NZ without sheep and without a sheep industry. That is a scenario NZ Merino Company chief executive John Brakenridge poses. A scenario that he says is "actually quite on the cards" if the status quo continues. Looking ahead 10 years, sheep farming, without commercial intervention, "does not look flash at all".

The crossbred industry was once again languishing and Mr Brakenridge believed some industry-good leaders had "lulled everybody" into a false sense of security, by saying China was going to need protein."The increase in poultry alone in the next two years, above current production, is going to be equivalent of all sheep meat produced in the world today.

"If we expect to be there, we've got to be far better at how we take our products to market," he said. Mr Brakenridge believed there was a future and potential for a crossbred industry, "but they've got to stop talking about structure and start doing things, and start concentrating on scale and market connections".

But as well as imagining New Zealand without a sheep industry, Mr Brakenridge also challenged people to think of a highly profitable sheep industry, which attracted young people to go farming. One of the biggest challenges the primary sector faced was talent and how to encourage young people to enter the industry.

That had led Mr Brakenridge to champion a group of more than 20 chief executives from NZ's leading and emerging primary sector organisations, for a six-day "boot camp" at the Stanford University campus in California, in August. NZ's potential was significant with the way the way the world was going, he said. "It's beautifully positioned for it, but we've just got to get better at how we take our products to market, both individually and collectively", and that was the essence of the camp.

An example of a successful partnership was NZ Merino teaming up Silver Fern Farms with the Silere Alpine Origin Merino meat initiative, which was proving very successful. NZ Merino was in a "unique position", as 70% of what it sold was through contracts. The commodity market could "crash and boom and bust" but, under the NZ Merino model, it provided stability for both the farmer and the end market.

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