Sheep farmers, particularly in the Canterbury High Country, are constantly faced with adversity and challenges, which often require innovative strategies to overcome these challenges. Cleardale Station owner Ben Todhunter joins REX host Dom George to provide an on-the-ground perspective on how his farm is navigating the harsh realities of unpredictable weather and market volatility.
With hot, dry weather dominating recent forecasts across a large portion of the country, he explains that a lot of lamb sales, particularly in Canterbury High Country, have been brought forward due to low feed stocks.
"It makes a bit of difference for those guys…lambs are on the market before some of the cropping guys get their ryegrass off, so it puts a bit of a hole in the market for them sometimes."
Todhunter shares his experience with a recent ram sale, noting a decline in sales, reflecting the broader sheep industry's struggle. Despite this, he remains hopeful due to his efforts in breeding a dual-purpose fine wool sheep that offers both robust performance and valuable wool, which aims to outmaneuver past concerns such as foot rot.
The conversation shifts to a broader discussion on genetics and breeding in agriculture, where the balance between achieving desirable traits and avoiding negative outcomes is emphasised. Todhunter talks about the discipline in breeding Angus cattle and Merino sheep.
"It's a hell of a balancing act really and it takes a bit to understand the different correlations."
He also shares insights from the U.S. beef industry, which has embraced genetic technologies, and discusses the contentious debate around gene editing. He highlights the importance of having an open conversation on the risks and benefits, pointing out that, "Some genetic modifications could be less controversial and beneficial for the industry."
Todhunter then provides an analysis of the wool industry, likening its challenges to the "toilet paper syndrome" – a market behaviour characterised by panic buying followed by a slump due to overstocking.
He suggests that the wool market might shift unexpectedly as stocks deplete, highlighting the importance of resilience for farmers facing tough times.
Listen to the full chat between Ben Todhunter and Dominic George above.