Ostrich industry on the rebound

The ostrich industry has managed to survive one of its most challenging times, and it seems as if the worst of the H5N2 avian influenza virus crises is finally over.

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This was according to Piet Kleyn, the CEO of the Ostrich Business Chamber (OBC), who said that the industry looked very different now than before the outbreak started in April 2011. Since then about 50 000 ostriches have been culled and the industry suffered losses of close to R1 billion due to a ban on meat exports to the EU. “Innovative agribusinesses such as Klein Karoo International, a co-operative of ostrich farmers, found alternatives to raw meat exports and have started focusing their attention on value-added products,” said Kleyn.

The export ban did not apply to ostrich meat that was heated to at least 70°C and made into ‘ready meals’. Businesses started investing in equipment to produce these products and exports of value-added ostrich meat have increased steadily. He said the local market for ostrich meat had also been developed and the OBC hoped local consumption would continue to increase in 2013.

“Furthermore, it looks as if the virus has finally been brought under control and the cycle might be coming to an end. We are hopeful that the export ban will be lifted before the end of the summer in 2013,” said Kleyn. Despite the positive outlook, he said farmers would still struggle to cope with high input costs, but the effects of these were likely to be mitigated somewhat by higher meat, leather and feather prices.

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Johan Stumpf, managing director of Klein Karoo International, said the demand for meat had risen, but not enough to absorb total production. “Our heat treated meat exports are increasing and within the next 12 to 18 months we should be able to move all the meat that we currently supply locally to our heat-treated meat line for export. We are already guaranteeing farmers a minimum price for 2013/2014 of about 30% more than the current meat prices,” said Stumpf.

Feather and leather prices doubled in 2012 as a result of declining availability, but Stumpf said he did not expect dramatic increases in 2013. At the end of 2012, farmers were earning R2 100/ostrich on average. This included about R20/kg for meat, R400 to R3 000/hide and R80 to R1 100 for feathers per bird, said Stumpf.

In spite of better producer prices, total ostrich production was expected to decline by about 30% in 2013 compared to 2012, when about 200 000 birds were slaughtered. Kleyn said this was because of a lack of breeding stock due to the high number of birds that were culled in a bid to stop the spread of H5N2. He urged ostrich farmers to register according to the latest Veterinary Procedural Notice, VPN04, as soon as possible. Only about 150 farms, less than half the industry total, had registered, he said.