Glen Innes born and bred Roger Fletcher was a main attraction at the town’s 150th agricultural show this weekend, with this international sheepmeat king chosen as judge for the prime lamb competition.
There were an unusually large number of entries, 175 in total, with Emma and Tristan Walmsley awarded champion pen overall for their second cross poll Dorset over Border Leicester/ Merino, 40-46kg.
While the crowd that assembled for the awards applauded the winners, their real motivation in appearing was to listen to the boy from Glen.
Mr Fletcher told his audience that the future in sheep was an exciting one with export potential growing all the time.
“Twenty years ago we sold 85 per cent of our product on the domestic market. Today that sector is 40 per cent.
“When I started all that mattered was the carcase and skin. Now we take big lamb and divide it into 60 different consumer packs and sell it to 90 countries all over the world. Twelve of those countries take more than 10,000 tonnes each. Remember that a lamb rack is only about one kilogram out of a carcase. The rest goes somewhere else.
“Seven years ago China took nothing from us now they are our biggest importer and. They buy the necks, the flaps, all the bones.
“Fifteen years ago we were recovering 55 per cent yield, now we sell 100 per cent of the lamb.
“Our packaging has improved. We separate the tallow. The speed of our processing is up 25 per cent and costs are down. We’ve reduced the number of inspectors.
“The industry is in good hands. If there is a biggest challenge it is that we need new markets and access to markets all around the world.
The new wave of Muslim immigrants to Europe was proving to be a marketing opportunity that would benefit Australia, he said.
Airlines and cruise ship companies were other opportunities for sheepmeat.
“What killed the wool industry in the past? Farmers weren’t listening to their customer. Forget about marketing, listen to the customer,” he said.
Mr Fletcher noted that the withdrawal of Britain from the European Union was an exciting opportunity. Currently New Zealand had a quota of 226,000 tonnes while Australia had 120,000 tonnes.
“But that will change,” he said. “New Zealand has a $15 per head head start on us but Australia does the job better. Our workers are better. This is a ticket to opportunity.”
Mr Fletcher denounced the role of government in meat processing saying the legacy of failed government-owned abattoirs was proof of that.
“Today our industry is about private, family owned business.”
If there was any cloud on the horizon it was the fact that tannery pollution in China was being controlled to the point that Australia may have to take responsibility for its own skins.
“At the moment we sell raw skins to China and buy them back tanned and sell them to Chinese tourists at the airport who take them back home.”