Farmers get tiny slice of food price


An NZIER report commissioned by Federated Farmers shows producers are not the main beneficiaries of food price rises.

The farmer’s share of the retail price was 40.12 % for honey, 35.46% for milk, 30.97% for lamb chops, 18.86% for blade steak, 16.37 for bread and just 5.3% for cheese.

Feds President Charlie Pedersen  says that means the farmer’s share is just three slices or bread in a 20 slice loaf, one of four pieces of steak, three glasses from a two litre bottle of milk and a tiny slice of kilo block of cheese.

The cause of high food prices is complex and outside the control of the food producer. Transport, processing, energy and marketing, plus normal margins are some of the factors which have pushed prices up. There is a link to export prices, but this has never changed since New Zealand began exporting meat back in 1882. There is a misconception that because dairy farmers are receiving good payouts from Fonterra, this is driving up prices.

In fact, fertiliser and the cost of compliance have risen. Food producers have had to cope with a severe drought and pay high prices for supplementary feed for their stock. Many sheep and beef farmers will suffer losses this year adding to the losses of previous years.

This report clearly shows that food producers are certainly not ‘creaming it’. Let’s not forget that food producers also have to buy food for their families.

Let’s also not forget that the farmers’ share is a gross return.

The full report concludes:

One influence on the gap between retail food prices and farmers’ returns is changes in general prices in the economy (inflation), particularly from goods such as petrol. Inflation also puts downward pressure on farmers’ profits, as the returns farmers receive need to cover increasing costs of production.

A feature of New Zealand agriculture is that the majority of our agricultural production is sold in markets overseas. New Zealand also imports a significant proportion of food by value. Given the significance of these international factors, addressing increasing domestic food prices requires a response broader than simply targeting the returns to New Zealand farmers. Lowering domestic farmers’ returns

may depress the domestic supply of food, and in turn increase dependence on  imported foods and the growth of food prices further.


We saw this happening when we were in Argentina last April. The Government had increased taxes on exports of beef and dairy products in an attempt to keep domestic prices low. But as our host, an economist, pointed out the market always wins because farmers were getting rid of cattle and growing soya instead which was giving a much better return. As a result of this meat and dairy supplies were decreasing and there were fears Argentina would have to resort to imports at world prices.


An increase in the export tax on soya earlier this year led to farmer protests and in spite of resulting shortages of food, an Argentinean friend said most people support the farmers rather than the Government.

Rising prices of basic foods here has led to calls for subsidies. Those of us who went through the ag-sag of the 80s know the trouble that would cause.There are no easy answers to the question of making food affordable but attempts to tax exports or subsidise producers will only make the problem worse.

Eating more meat may be healthy sign for world


Last week’s Listener had a story headlined Let them (not) eat meat. It referred to the Independent report which said 760 million tonnes of grain will be used to feed animals this year, with 8 kg of grain needed to produce 1 kg of beef.


The story goes on to say that “globally we are eating more meat than we used to – 50% more than in the 1960s – with consumption predicted to double by 2050. So to help our futures and those of our children, the experts recommend eating less meat and more veges…”


In this week’s Listener Tanya Hart, Marketing and PR manager for Beef & Lamb NZ responds. She points out the story lacks local context because:  


…the vast majority of New Zealand’s beef- and lamb-producing livestock is not grain-fed or produced via intensive feedlot systems. Our livestock are raised on extensive, natural pastures with no intensive farming. This results in low pollution, lower use of fertiliser and more efficient energy use. The Independent article Boland sources clearly refers to global farming systems that are substantially different from the sustainable farming practices here.
Second, New Zealanders are not eating more meat “than we used to”. We eat red meat in moderate amounts well within the “safe” guidelines outlined in the recent World Cancer Research Fund report and within those of the Ministry of Health, the National Heart Foundation of New Zealand and the Cancer Society of New Zealand.
Though eating less meat might seem a simple solution to a “global food crisis”, it has serious nutritional implications. Eating less meat is likely to lead to inappropriate diets that will not necessarily protect against obesity, cancer or rising food bills. Lean red meat is an excellent source of a whole range of nutrients and, when eaten three to four times a week, is an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Eating too much meat is linked to cancer and heart disease, but too little can result in health problems too. Rather than being cause for concern, an increase in world-wide consumption of meat may be an indication that people in developing countries like China and India are becoming better off and so able to spend more on protein. That would be good news for our sheep and beef industry and also for the health of those people.  


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