A drop in lamb prices over the last eight weeks has fuelled fears
in the hill sheep sector over its longer-term sustainability. NFUS
is urging buyers to send the right signals to producers in 2007.
After a bad start to 2006, lamb prices improved from March onwards.
However, there has been a slump in prices since November. Over the
last eight weeks, prices have been, on average, three per cent lower
than the year before, despite retail lamb prices remaining firm.
Scottish Executive figures show a further drop in sheep numbers
across Scotland, with nearly 300,000 sheep coming off farms between
June 2005 and June 2006.
NFUS has stressed that an increased emphasis on local, quality food
presents a real opportunity for the sheep sector. However, it cannot
realise its potential in the absence of sustainable prices. Following
a series of hill farm events around Scotland last Summer, NFUS is
developing a number of policies to forge a sustainable future for
the sector. The Union’s focus covers market issues such as
pricing and branding but also areas where the industry can strengthen
its own position, for example by better meeting market specifications.
NFUS President John Kinnaird said:
“The start of last year was marked by a reduction in finished
lamb prices. The result was more sheep coming off the hills and I
have concerns we may see the same again this year. At a time when
support and recognition of locally produced food has never been higher,
there is a real opportunity to forge local markets and add value
to Scottish sheep production. However, to develop local markets,
farmers in the area need returns which cover the costs of production
and provide for reinvestment.
“The drop in farmgate prices at the end of last year contrasts
with retail prices which remained broadly consistent and, if anything,
rose slightly. If the market place is to get supply, it has to send
more positive signals. In return, the industry must do its bit to
meet market specifications.
“The hill farm events we held across Scotland last Summer
emphasised the concern amongst our members over the future of hill
farming. We’ve seen another 3.6 per cent drop in sheep numbers
over the year. That has an impact, not just on individual family
farms but on the local processing infrastructure and food industry.
“I have no doubt there is real potential in the hill sheep
sector and NFUS is developing a policy document to map the way ahead.
The key to success will be a combination of industry efforts to strengthen
its own position and prices which properly reflect quality.”
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