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Stackyard News Jan 08

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Breeders Group Calls for Radical Change to Lamb Marketing

Prospects for the British sheep industry remain bleak unless a better price is achieved for prime lambs.


ewe and lambs

It is estimated that the UK has lost around 10 million breeding females, or about one third of the national flock, over the last ten years as a result of persistently low profits.

And if the recent forecast from HSBC, that a typical 180 hectare upland farm in the North England with 750 breeding ewes and 50 suckler cows is likely to lose £16,533 in 2008 , even if SFP and ELS payments are counted as income, proves correct, it is unlikely that many of those sheep farmers still in business can survive unless more money is earned from the prime lamb market.

This is why a group of concerned Scottish and English breeders met recently at Carlisle and put forward a suggestion that would give farmers more control over the sale of prime lambs while at the same time increasing the proportion of lambs hitting market specification.

Their view is that current deadweight and liveweight methods of selling prime lambs are quite obviously not working because they are unable to deliver a livelihood to farmers.

So they would like these replaced with a system which cover production costs and leave a net margin.

The Discussion Group argues that if participating farmers have more control over prime lamb supplies then they will also have more control of the price, and more of them are likely to stay in business. Farmers do know their production costs and do know where the price needs to be when subsidy payments become less.

It accepts that this would require radical change to current selling systems.

It also hopes that if a revised marketing system was adopted nationwide it would not only lift prime lamb prices to realistic levels but would also encourage more farmers to breed and finish better quality lambs and create more work for auction companies which would also be able to continue to stage the important store lamb and breeding sheep auction sales.

Archie MacGregor from Allanfauld is one of the “Carlisle Discussion Group”. He farms 1,300 ewes and 100 suckler cows and is a director of a Mart. Around 90 per cent of his farm income is achieved through auction sales and 60 per cent of this is from breeding stock.

“However I am worried that the current live prime lamb sale system is failing at many marts and I would like to see an alternative that ensures a better price for vendors and secures a place for auction companies in future sales”, he said.

“None of the ideas the Discussion Group has put forward are set in stone and I would like to see more debate so the industry itself can determine the best way to make sure prime lambs are sold at realistic prices and more farmers can look forward to a less harrowing future. Every member of the discussion group wants to see a viable and strong auction mart sector which all consider is essential when selling farmer to farmer in the store and breeding sales.”

He is supported by Fenwick Jackson of Kersheugh near Jedburgh who would like to see more flexibility in price determination and is also keen that the failure of almost 40 per cent of prime lambs to meet the customers required specification is very quickly improved on.

The group has had a meeting with representatives of the LAA and IAAS .

Carlisle Discussion Group members are:

Malcolm Corbett, Dykehead, Rochester, Northumberland.
John Hall, Inglewood Edge, Dalston, Cumbria.
J. Fenwick Jackson, Kersheugh, Jedburgh
Archie MacGregor, Allanfauld
Alistair Mackintosh, Muncaster, Cumbria.
Hans Pörksen, Gallowshill, Morpeth, Northumberland
Malcolm Stewart, Brotherstone, Melrose.

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