18 Nov 2013

Border bungle costs Silver Fern Farms dearly

4:43 pm on 18 November 2013

Silver Fern Farms says a spike in lamb prices in 2011 and a subsequent collapse in consumer demand triggered its latests losses, but it also blames a border bungle over export documents.

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The meat co-operative narrowed its annual net loss to $28.6 million for the 12 months to September from $31.1 million the previous year.

It blames the on-going impact of a collapse in sheepmeat prices and demand at the beginning of last year.

Silver Fern says it was forced to carry over unsold lamb and mutton stocks and write down the value.

Its chairman, Eoin Garden, says the loss is disappointing and unacceptable, but is an improvement on the previous year, when it lost more than $31 million.

But Silver Fern Farm chief executive Keith Cooper says the blockage of New Zealand sheepmeat shipments at Chinese ports several times between May and September this year also hit the company's cashflows.

And Mr Garden says if that if the backlog hadn't occurred in China, cashflows would have been significantly positive.

Flow-on effect

"We had around 900 40-foot containers with a value of $106 million distorted over that period," he says.

"The flow-on effect was that we didn't ship to market the volume of product we had originaly planned in our August-September period".

Silver Fern says in contrast to sheepmeat, it's beef venison and co-products operations have done well.

It says the outlook for sheepmeat is also more positive this year, with growing demand from China, and tighter supplies on the world market .

Despite the operating loss, the co-operative is has continued to invest heavily in research and development through the Farm IQ programme and its plate-to-pasture marketing strategy, all aimed at lifting returns for the company and its farmer suppliers.

Silver Fern Farms says it remains a strong supporter of meat industry reform and is working with PricewaterhouseCoopers to review its options after meat company discussions on industry restructuring stalled.

Earlier this month, the Alliance Group reported a net profit of $5.6 million for the 12 months to September compared with a loss of $50.8 million the previous year.