• October Meat Market Report

October Meat Market Report

Christmas ham could be off the menu for some this year with a forecast shortage of produce in the lead-up to the holiday season.

Workforce shortages across multiple agricultural sectors due to COVID-19 restrictions will cause supply chain issues and could result in supply for products like ham, lamb, fruit and vegetables not meeting demand. 

Ritchie's IGA chief executive officer Fred Harrison said it was likely food prices would rise sharply in the coming months. 

"It will be slightly more expensive than last year for pork, and we're seeing now beef and lamb prices are through the roof compared to 12 months ago,"  Mr Harrison said.

Although COVID-related restrictions are mainly in Victoria and New South Wales, the implications for the supply chain could impact other parts of the country.

Consumers to pay the price

Melbourne abattoirs are currently running with 80 per cent of their usual workforce, which is predicted to create a backlog in the red meat sector. 

Similar restrictions on food processing were in place this time last year, and Mr Harrison said if strict workplace limits remained in place, there would be less ham available this Christmas. 

a worker carves fat off a lamb carcase
Melbourne meatworks are required by the Victorian government to operate at 80 per cent capacity.( 

ABC Rural: Laurissa Smith


"There were sacrifices — not the entire range of hams was available," he said. 

"If we can get abattoirs back to normal by mid-November, we will get through Christmas adequately — but not with the full range." 

Workforce shortages in the horticulture sector would also result in a reduced availability of fruits and vegetables, especially stone fruits, Mr Harrison said. 

"We pay more, and then ultimately the consumer pays more." 

stone fruit growing on trees.
Stone fruit prices are predicted to increase ahead of Christmas due to worker shortages.( 

ABC Rural: Jessica Schremmer


Calls to cull restrictions

Meat & Livestock Australia forecast that if abattoir restrictions remained in place until November, there would be approximately 250,000 surplus spring lambs that would not be processed this year.

Patrick Hutchinson, CEO of the Australian Meat Industry Council, had no doubt who would bear the brunt of the shortages.

"Unfortunately, it's going to be consumers. It's going to be local butchers and farmers who are going to suffer," he said.

Lamb and vegetables on a plate.
The meat industry fears there will not be the processing capacity to keep up with the demand for spring lamb.( 

Supplied: Glen Barratt


Mr Hutchinson said more than 40 per cent of Melbourne abattoirs had 80–90 per cent of staff fully vaccinated.

"These great results have been completely disregarded by DHHS and the Victorian government in risk settings," he said.

"It beggars belief that they would turn their back on an industry investing its own money in getting people vaccinated.

"It does nothing to incentivise industry moving forward."

Tim Kingma, a pork producer in north-central Victoria,  said the state's processing plants were going above and beyond what had been outlined in the state government's roadmap out of lockdown.

"If a business has 80 or 90 per cent vaccination rate, and is testing staff every week and has a COVID officer, surely it's got to be seen as A-plus. Let's reward it," the Victorian Farmers Federation spokesperson said.

A man in a hay shed holding a pig
Echuca pork producer Tim Kingma wants workforce restrictions in abattoirs lifted.( 

Supplied: Victorian Farmers Federation


"We have the pigs here in Australia. We just have to get them processed.

The Victorian government said its roadmap indicated some easing of restrictions in all settings in Victoria, including meatworks, once 70 per cent of the eligible population was fully vaccinated.

Original article posted by ABC RuralBy Jane McNaughton and Eden Hynninen

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