New Chairman Richard Young encourages shareholders to join market trips, saying it was a very valuable experience. Reporting back on his fourth trip to China, which included a visit to a Shanghai Maling canning plant producing a lot of pork, vegetables and soups, much of which was exported to Southeast Asia. There was discussion around what could be done around white offals in a canned form, using some of Silver Fern Farms lower-end products. But the challenge was the company did not have market access for that, although it was lobbying hard to “get some traction”. Ultimately, that decision would be made by the Chinese Government but getting that accreditation could have a significant impact on Silver Fern Farms’ profitability, he said.

The group ate at a lot of restaurants that had Silver Fern Farms product, including a hot pot restaurant where honeycomb tripe from its Dargaville plant was served. Time was spent with Shanghai Maling representatives who took the group around supermarkets and also to a subsidiary company which had a deli-butchery shop type operation. Watching staff cutting meat to order, wearing Silver Fern Farms branded aprons and hats, was `pretty neat” and showed the value of that partnership with Shanghai Maling. At a food show in Shanghai, attended by about 120,000 people, brand recognition was “amazing” for the group who were wearing branded clothing. “I think each farmer in that group sold 10 containers of meat in that first hour,” he said.

They visited a tannery – “an amazing facility” – where the water filtration system cost $100,000 a day to run and employed 10,000 employees who were all housed and fed and had their children educated on-site.What was interesting was the tannery owner believed the quality of New Zealand sheep skins was inferior to Mongolian sheep skins, based on density and thickness. However, the quality of New Zealand skins, from a processing point of view, was “exemplary”.

The group also visited a sheep farm on the outskirts of Beijing housing 11,000 breeding ewes, all indoors, on a 35ha property. The operation was tidy and clean and the stock were in excellent order. A lot of Australian genetics were used. All the feed was grown in the surrounding area – none was imported – and it was supplying 8000 rams into the Chinese sheep flock a year for breeding. The operator’s view was the domestic sheep flock was stable and starting to grow a bit. The Chinese Government was pushing farming indoors, although that growth was limited by ability to get feed in.

Mr Young took over as chairman  of Silver Fern Farms Ltd in May having joined the SFF Board in 2013.