New Zealand – Coronavirus threatens meat processing as cool stores fill with export product

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China takes almost half New Zealand’s meat exports and that amounted to 402,586 tonnes of sheep meat and beef last year.

Farmers are worried about the impact of the coronavirus after Silver Fern Farms talked of reducing meat processing because of cold storage shortages.

In an email to suppliers on Tuesday the company warned that congestion at Chinese ports caused by the health emergency had put considerable pressure on New Zealand cold storage space.

From next week it would reduce mutton processing in the “very short term” to minimise the future risk of significant stoppages at its plants; alarming news for drought-stricken farmers wanting to cull stock to conserve feed.

Silver Fern Farms chief executive Simon Limmer said in a written statement on Thursday that production was back on track after finding extra cold storage, but he admitted problems related to the virus were not over.

 “This is a dynamic and changing situation and we will continue to assess our options daily.”

The company email said the virus meant Chinese businesses, ports and government departments were operating at restricted capacity so it was having to hold product destined for China in New Zealand.

Beef and lamb had been diverted to alternative markets, but there were few options for mutton because China was the main market globally.

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