His earlier ports of call included Australia, England and Colombia before he found his way to the U.S. in 2009 and ultimately to the Denver meeting a few weeks ago, bringing a broad and international perspective to his Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) duties. The summer meeting was Meikle's first introduction to the Board following his recent appointment as an importer representative. As the Regional Manager, North America for Beef and Lamb New Zealand, he gives voice to the interests of New Zealand's sheep and cattle ranchers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Meilke first came to the U.S. to serve as the Agriculture Attaché with the New Zealand Embassy in Washington, D.C., a position he held from 2009 to 2013 and where he picked up his expertise in agriculture policy. He speaks fluent Spanish, learned when he traveled to Colombia with the plan to stay for three months about 15 years ago. He wanted to learn Spanish, but he ended up spending three years immersing himself in the culture of that country, too, and working for the British Council in Bogota. It's where he met his wife, Carolina.
"We've been together for 13 years and we now have three beautiful children; Siena who is 6, Enzo who is almost 4 and Tiago who is almost 2," he said when he was talking with me from his home in northwest Washington, D.C. They will all grow up fluent in both English and Spanish, which is a wonderful head start in life.
Meikle has a Master’s in Business Administration but hastens to add that they do have a genuine economist in the family. "Carolina has a Master's degree in Economics so I'm able to bounce ideas off her to see if they make sense. With some of the projects I've been involved with, she's been very important to my career."
Describing his employer, he said, "Beef and Lamb New Zealand is organized by farmers for farmers. We're headquartered in Wellington and have a number of employees working in regional offices around New Zealand. We also have five full-time employees based around the world. I'm the U.S. representative and the others are based in Tokyo, Beijing, London and Brussels.
"Beef and Lamb New Zealand focusses on four core areas: market development and market access; R & D; extension services; and an economic research service. I work on maintaining market access in the U.S. which means a large focus of my work is on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)." Meikle added that it is vitally important for New Zealand and U.S. beef producers that we get the TPP right. “We get one crack at reducing the absurdly high tariff regime that Japanese agriculture hides behind. This is a once in a generation opportunity for us to set a level playing field. It is the sort of game changer that will help keep agriculture profitable for our kids and grandkids in the future.”
In this context, Meikle also works closely with The Five Nations Beef Alliance (FNBA), a forum representing beef cattle producers in Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the United States. Consisting of the Cattle Council of Australia, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, and Confederación Nacional de Organizaciones Ganaderas, FNBA members are countries that produce 1/3 of world's beef.
"The Cattlemen's Beef Board assigned me to the Freedom to Operate Committee," he said. "We'll be working on sustainability research messaging. Our projects include the Beef Quality Assurance and Veal Quality Assurance programs, too."
Developing the lamb market is one of his special interests. New Zealand is a major producer and works hard to increase the market for lamb products.
"In the U.S., we're looking to improve shelf space. About half the lamb consumed in America is produced in the U.S. Another 30 percent comes from Australia and the rest comes from New Zealand. For New Zealand it's predominantly a high end “racks”market — white tablecloth restaurants — but we are always looking to expand our foodservice offerings and retail presence."
Talking about the often higher pricing for lamb, he said, "with beef and pork prices going higher, lamb could soon be seen as a more affordable protein resource."