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Ostrich industry needs more research

1st Oct 2012 , S&V African Leather

'For the ostrich industry to survive, it must become less volatile'

For the ostrich industry to survive, it must become less volatile, says Mosstrich group MD Francois de Wet.

It’s clear to us that the numbers of ostrich chicks hatched so far this year, and the demand, are drastically reduced, and there are predictions for a slaughter next year of as low as 80 000, but it’s a bit early to make that call.

This season we expect 125 000 to 140 000 birds to be slaughtered – and that is already too low.

The problem is that there is no confidence among the farmers and breeders because they are insecure over the current AI control strategy of DAFF.

The latest detection of AI in the Southern Cape did not come about because of movement. The affected farms have very good bio-security measures.

A combination of more testing, more detailed testing, and bigger numbers of birds being tested are the reasons for the repeated positive results – the disease has probably always been there. The point is we will always have this problem.

One of the most important things we have to do now is a proper risk analysis of what the chance is of poultry being affected by H5N2 from ostriches – that is the government’s single most important reason for culling. The correct, legitimate research should be performed, with a view to adapting the AI control strategy for ostriches accordingly.

If exports had reopened in August/September last year, farmers would have been better off – but within 3 to 12 months, there’d have been another positive test for AI, and the price to farmers would drop. It’s too volatile to be sustainable.

Our view is that we must make a success of cooked meat – the survival of this company and its producers depends on it. We’re looking into it at the moment. We will do it, and at the moment we’re researching how.

We believe that with a higher contribution from exported, par-cooked meat than we get from local sales of meat, we’ll be in a much better position. However, survival now is more in the hands of the prices that leather will fetch.

For the farmer, the price for a table run of skins has risen 40% to R1 000. The sad thing is that because of the shortage of skins, we have had to retrench 25% of the staff of SCOT.

Feathers have gone up by R200 to R300 a bird resulting in an average feather realisation of about R600 per ostrich.

When meat exports stopped, farmers lost around R1 000 per bird – down from about R2 400 to R1 400 per bird, which is at least R600 below breakeven. With skin and feather increases, about R600 of that has been recovered. With cooked meat exports and further leather price increases, they could actually be better off than they were before. Ostrich has become a scarce commodity, and will become scarcer than at any time in the last 10 years.

Among our customers, there is an acceptance that leather prices will increase, and in Europe, particularly, it could increase more if we get enough higher grade skins – that could be the saviour of the industry.

This is because the leather accessory side of the fashion houses is the fastest growing side of their businesses, and the more exotics they put in, the faster it grows. There is a great opportunity for the ostrich industry to be part of this. I foresee that there will be more consistent use of ostrich leather in their products. – [Tel: +27 (0)44 606 4500, email: fdewet@mosstrich.co.za]




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