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Industry at the crossroads - By Nathan Scott

  • By: Nathan Scott
  • Jul 10, 2017

Is our industry at the cross roads?  I think it is.  If you have been reading any of the rural papers, or keeping an eye on social media, then you will know there are some pretty big topics up for discussion.

Mulesing is back on the agenda, and what I can’t understand is how it ever went off the agenda.  The most common response I hear from farmers on the issue is along the lines of “when there is a premium for non mulesed, we will stop mulesing”, or “while we can still do it, we will”.  My question is why do we need someone to pay us to do the right thing?  Why would we need someone to make us do the right thing?  Why doesn’t our industry have enough backbone to just do the right thing?

I know there will be people saying “but we need something, what are the alternatives”, and it is a valid point, as it was every time someone asked the same question over the past 50 plus years.  While we keep putting our heads in the sand, and doing nothing as a collective industry, we will continue to get the same answer; “we can’t do without it”.

What if our industry had done more 50 years ago, or 40 years ago, or 30 years ago, or 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago?  Would we still be faced with such a daunting problem.  There are plenty of people who have actually stopped mulesing, and I can’t commend them enough.  Using genetics and management to overcome a problem because it is the right thing to do!

Mulesing isn’t just a wool issue, it has now transcended all sheep industries as a problem.  So when is the best time for the industry, and you individually, to make a stance and commit to doing the right thing? RIGHT NOW! The easiest way to start, is to actually begin.

And what about all the talk this week about lamb price grids, and the issues with tightening weight ranges.  With objective carcass measurement on the way, this is an issue that is going to grow legs quickly.  As it stands now, a grid of 18 – 32kg provides absolutely no market signals to producers, and with little or no fat penalties, the message is to produce the biggest fattest thing you can.

We have spoken to a lot of producers over the last couple of years, and the message is overwhelmingly in favour of more feedback, and market signals that actually reflect consumer demands.  That is until we dig a bit deeper.   What if a processor put out a grid that did better reflect consumer demands, with a tighter sweet spot? Would you risk missing the mark if there were other processors offering “old school grids”?  And guess what the answer overwhelmingly is???? “It might cost us money if we miss the mark, so we probably wouldn’t”.

Why would we worry about what the consumer wants, or what the right thing to do is.  Why try to be better when we can just keep doing things the same way in fear of something new, different, or being penalised for producing the wrong thing.

You should want to be penalised for producing the wrong thing.  Without penalties there is nothing to discourage you from producing the poor product.  Sure a premium would be good too, but you can’t have a premium without a counterbalancing discount.

And maybe, just maybe, doing the right thing should be incentive enough.

So which is it? Do you want to do the right thing, or should our industry keep up our proud tradition of doing things the same way we always have.  Tradition… a great excuse for making stuff all progress.