16 Sep 2015

Last ditch effort to stop foreign Silver Fern buy-in

2:48 pm on 16 September 2015

An industry group is appealing to the heads of Silver Fern Farms and the Alliance Group in a last-ditch attempt to stop foreign investment.

meat processing (stock photo)

Silver Fern Farms and the Alliance Group are the country's two largest meat processors. Photo: 123RF

The farmer-led Meat Industry Excellence (MIE) group has been trying to reform the red meat industry by blending the country's two largest meat processors.

But, yesterday, Silver Fern Farms announced that China's largest meat processor, Shanghai Maling, would inject $261 million into a new joint partnership.

MIE chairman and Southland sheep farmer Peter McDonald said farmers needed to shape their own future.

He said the blending of Silver Fern Farms and the Alliance Group was still an option, but it lay with the boards of both companies.

"We're still hopeful at the last minute the boards can see sense and start to work with each other," he said.

"All we want is for each chairman to pick up the phone and talk to each other. That conversation has not taken place in 25 years despite all the pressure and all the groups such as MIE's been and gone in the past.

"Now is the time for those conversations to start happening."

'Back to the start'

Mr McDonald said the red meat industry had been controlled by foreign investment in the past, which had led to the creation of the co-operatives.

He said farmers needed to think long and hard about whether history should repeat itself.

"It looks as though there's a big huge carrot attached to this deal for Silver Fern farmers to vote on on the 16th [of October] and I've got a feeling a lot of those farmers that go to that meeting will understand that this is wrong," he said.

"They all know it is not right for our long-term futures."

Mr McDonald said the industry used to be dominated by the sale of frozen meat to the UK, and farmers had been controlled by players in the UK.

"When the plants opened and when they closed, and we were told how much we would get and when we would get it," he said.

"So that started the rise of the co-operatives in New Zealand to break away from that control but now we can see it all starting to go back to the start, which is extremely disappointing."

Shareholders will vote on the Silver Fern Farms/Shanghai Maling joint venture at the former's AGM on 16 October. It will need 50 percent support to be approved.