Bendigo chicken producer says industry could help as African swine fever spreads and red meat prices rise

John Hazeldene. Picture: BILL CONROY
John Hazeldene. Picture: BILL CONROY

BENDIGO chickens could help fill a global "protein shortage" spurred on by a swine fever pandemic and high red meat prices, the head of Hazeldenes planned to tell agribusiness leaders on Friday.

African swine fever has swept through Asia and the Victorian Farmers Federation fears the highly infectious disease could enter Australia and devastate the $1 billion a year pig industry.

Yet the epidemic could help bolster the chicken industry, even if it does not spread to Australia, Hazeldenes executive director John Hazeldene planned to tell a conference in Bendigo on Friday.

"50 per cent of the pigs have been wiped out in China and that was the main meat there," he said.

"You would think that if it keeps up - and there is no sign of it letting up anytime - chicken could end up with more demand, even if China is importing more pork."

Demand from Australian suppliers like Hazeldenes could come down to a free trade agreement with China.

"Those opportunities are not there now, but you just don't know the future," Mr Hazeldene said.

It comes as sustained high red meat prices make more people in Australia and around the world look for cheaper products like chicken, he said.

Australians eat less beef than they did 20 years ago, a Meat & Livestock Australia report released yesterday shows.

They are eating roughly the same amount of lamb despite retail price rises, the report showed.

"It gets to a point where people can't afford red meat," Mr Hazeldene said.

Chicken prices have remained stable over the past 30 years as producers have improved efficiency, he said.

"When we were kids if you had chooks you weren't deemed to be a real farmer. It had to be cattle, sheep or grain. Now the most sustainable type of farming is probably chicken."

The speech is one of four specifically exploring ways to tackle risks and opportunities in a changing industry at the Energising Regional Australia Bendigo Conference, which is taking place at the Quality Hotel Lakeside.

Speakers are also focusing on AgTech and on farm innovations, while other speakers will give insights into the region's agribusinesses and investment in regional Australia.

The conference has been organised by Agribusiness Australia in conjunction with Central Victorian Agribusiness Forum.

This story Chicken could end up the protein of choice first appeared on Bendigo Advertiser.