Concern at drop in lamb prices

Raymond Irvine, Zoetis Animal Health discussing scab and worm treatment for sheep with Ian Buchanan, Dungiven and Ciaran Hamill, Senior Business Technologist, CAFRE, two of the visitors to the Zoetis stand at the Winter Fair. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Raymond Irvine, Zoetis Animal Health discussing scab and worm treatment for sheep with Ian Buchanan, Dungiven and Ciaran Hamill, Senior Business Technologist, CAFRE, two of the visitors to the Zoetis stand at the Winter Fair. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

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Wool Board Chairman Ian Buchanan has welcomed the confirmation of an emergency meeting involving the Ulster Farmers’ Union and the Irish Farmers’ Association to discuss the slump in lamb and hogget prices of recent days.

“This has been a terrible start to the 2015 season for sheep producers in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“Fundamentally, both farming organisations need to clarify exactly what is causing the problems and then seek to have them rectified.”

Buchanan added that at least one southern processor had given a verbal commitment to the effect that the current cross border trade issues would not cause a problem for lambs groups in Northern Ireland, most of whom send their output south from June onwards.

“But these are just words,” Buchanan added. “It’s hard not to conclude that the plants are simply price taking at the present time. Last year, beef producers were taking the brunt of the hardship on the back of the nomad cattle issue: now sheep producers are in the eye of the storm.”

The Wool Board representative went on to point out that hogget throughput at the plants throughout Ireland is well up year-on year.

“So we are not looking at a numbers’ game when it comes to explaining what’s going on in the markets at the present time,” he said.

Meanwhile, a leading livestock auctioneer has confirmed that lamb prices have collapsed by £25 per head over the past three weeks with the plants cutting their prices in line with these trends. This equates to an 80 pence per kilo fall in deadweight terms, in tandem with a tightening of weight restrictions.

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Livestock Auctioneers’ Association said: “Beef and lamb have now been caught up in labelling regulations of one form or another over recent months. And are we to see our pork, dairy, fruit and vegetable sectors affected in a similar manner?

“The EU fails to recognise Northern Ireland’s unique position on the edge of Europe, affiliated with the UK but having a land border with another member state. Farmers in Northern Ireland have always enjoyed strong trading relations with the Irish Republic, and vice versa. Now producers in Northern Ireland find themselves both land locked and sea locked.

“As with other negative issues that have impacted on agriculture in Northern Ireland, including Horsegate, residency issues and cattle imports, there are those with power and influence who take advantage of these situations for the purposes of their own financial gain.”

Martkethill auctioneer Hampton Hewitt has confirmed that the plants in Northern Ireland will be offering 320 pence per kilo for lambs next Monday morning.

“The equivalent price in mainland UK will be 380 pence with prices in the Republic of Ireland at an equivalent level,” he said.

“The option of putting lambs live to Great Britain is not feasible and now the option of putting stock south has, to all intents and purposes, been halted. The end result is an unfolding crisis for sheep producers here in Northern Ireland.”