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Urgent action planned for sheep farmers

Urgent action planned for sheep farmers

A solution for struggling sheep and wool farmers will be put forward within six months, according to an associate agricultural minister.

As a sheep farmer himself, rural communities and associate agricultural minister Mark Patterson said he was "keenly aware" of the issues facing sheep farmers with high input costs and low returns for meat and wool.

“Everyone knows we are on a burning platform. Farmers are moving away from sheep."

Patterson said New Zealand sheep farmers were producing magnificent fibre but not getting a reasonable price for wool.

We have to turn this around within six months, he told a gathering of about 50 Mid Canterbury farmers at a woolshed tour on Mount Somers Station.

“Sheep farmers have long been the backbone of NZ’s farming communities - and we need to get in behind and support them."

The Government plans to engage with farmers from Northland to Southland to discuss grassroots solutions, he said.

Profitability was a big issue for farmers at the meeting. Several said there was no incentive to run sheep on land that was largely only suitable for sheep.

"It is uneconomic. There is no profit. We are getting a bill for our wool," one farmer said.

"If the market's not paying, what's the point of it? It doesn't give us any incentive to do the work," another said.

Patterson said there was a "massive degree of cynicism" but he believed a turnaround was possible for the wool industry.

"The only way to turn this around is to increase the demand."

The solution lay in finding end uses for wool that can support a higher farmgate price, he said.

Patterson, who is also the minister responsible for wool, said there was a big push against plastics and the environmental footprint they have which was driving a global trend toward sustainable materials - like wool.

"If we're smart about this, we can capture this wave."

Bother farmers and Patterson said the process would need to be managed to ensure farmers profited from higher prices.

Patterson said supply chains needed to be restructured into value chains along similar lines to Fonterra and Silverferns.

"We need to drive some value back behind the farm gate," he said.

The Government was also looking to introduce wool carpets in schools through the procurement process, he said.

By Sharon Davis