Strangford Down gets the lowdown on wool and meat

Strangford Down beef and lamb marketing group members with, in the foreground, guest speakers Colin MacGregor, Regional Manager with the BWMB and Keith Williamson, Supply Chain Manager at Linden Foods.
Strangford Down beef and lamb marketing group members with, in the foreground, guest speakers Colin MacGregor, Regional Manager with the BWMB and Keith Williamson, Supply Chain Manager at Linden Foods.

The British Wool Marketing Board was established in 1950 as farmers were getting a poor deal when it came to selling their wool.

Colin MacGregor, Regional Manager with the BWMB, explained that back then there were 130,000 sheep farmers in the UK selling to 100 merchants. In order to improve the situation, a central marketing system was set up to provide the best possible returns for the farmer. A guaranteed price structure was set up.

Chairman of Strangford Down Ian Martin welcomes guest speakers Colin MacGregor of the British wool marketing Board and Keith Williamson of Linden Foods.

Chairman of Strangford Down Ian Martin welcomes guest speakers Colin MacGregor of the British wool marketing Board and Keith Williamson of Linden Foods.

Since 1992 the BWMB received no government support and the organisation runs as a non profit making, farmer run, body returning to the producer the market price for their wool. The BWMB does not buy the wool from the farmer but markets the wool on his behalf. They are the only organisation in the world that collects, grades, sells and promotes fleece wool.

In the UK there are over 60 pure breeds of sheep providing a huge variety of fleece types. Every fleece is graded and there are 100 grades of wool. Today there are 450,000 producers sending wool to the board through 11 depots which handle 30m Kg of fleeces in a year. Grading is carried out to international standards and graders have a five year training period to distinguish the subtle features of the different wool types.

During the course of the year there are 18 sale auctions. The bulk of the annual clip, around 75%, is received at the depots by August. The marketing of the wool is structured in such a way that there are similar quantities of the different grades of wool available at each auction. There is a reserve price in place to iron out the volatilities of the market. An electronic auction system is in place to handle the huge quantities of wool coming forward and 2m kg can be sold in the space of three hours. Buyers can be confident in the grading and testing regime in place at the BWMB and sitting in front of a screen, they have two seconds to place their bid for the consistent lots of wool coming forward.

The organisation is the envy of European farmers. Buyers come from around the world to buy from the BWMB and currently 30-35% of the wool is sold to China.

Edgar Carson of Strangford Down chats to Daniel Mullen and Mark Collins of Go Power, one of the leading Electricity and Gas suppliers to the industrial and commercial sector in Ireland.

Edgar Carson of Strangford Down chats to Daniel Mullen and Mark Collins of Go Power, one of the leading Electricity and Gas suppliers to the industrial and commercial sector in Ireland.

Keith Williamson, Supply Chain Manager at Linden Foods, provided an insight into the marketing of lamb. Quality and consistency of supply are important factors in developing outlets for locally produced lamb. To this end, Linden Foods are increasingly sourcing their supplies from producer groups and less and less from individual deals. The consistent weights and grades that the specialist lambs producer groups can provide are helping to develop markets for this quality product.

Linden Foods supply lamb to Marks and Spencer and Tesco. These are prime outlets for the Northern Ireland lamb. The carcass breakdown falls into front, middle and haunch. The high value cuts from the middle and haunch are products sought after by M&S and Tesco. The front of the carcass finds a market in London largely due to the demand for kebabs. The current breakdown shows that 42.8% comes from the front section, 26.8% from the middle and 30.8% from the haunch of the lamb. As the season progresses toward spring lamb these percentages change.

Keith invited Strangford Down members to come along to the factory for a more detailed insight into the processes, packaging and presentation of the lambs supplied by the group. A ready exchange of information between producer and meat plant is a valuable tool in forging the way ahead.

The year 2016 brought some big surprises declared Strangford Down Chairman, Ian Martin. Brexit and Trump spring to mind and as a result there are some unknowns on the horizon. However, the currency exchange was in our favour and we saw a welcome lift in value of Northern Ireland lamb by around £10. Taking a longer view though toward 2019 when current agriculture support comes to an end and with no substitute plan on the horizon, there remains a significant degree of uncertainty.

The Strangford Down lamb and beef marketing group have now got twenty six years of experience behind them and have co-operatively developed outlets for the prime stock which is produced in Co Down. The past year has seen over 16,000 lambs marketed by group members and several hundred cattle.

With strength in numbers, buying group deals for fuel, feed and veterinary supplies continues. Introduced last year was an electricity supply deal in conjunction with GO Power. Members report significant saving in energy costs over the past 12 months.

Meelmore Lodge was the venue for a successful barbecue last summer. The facilities at Meelmore Lodge include a restaurant, camp site, bunk house accommodation and a cottage to rent. This gateway to the Mournes is in a stunning location but is also the area farmed by owner Dessie Patterson. Dessie is a member of Strangford Down and supplies lambs through the group. Ian Martin thanked Dessie for his offer of the facilities to host the barbecue. Linden Foods supplied the meat for the barbecue and Gary Foster of Linden did a practical demonstration of what to consider when selecting lambs for the factory. Ian also thanked Aurelie Moralis of Zoetis who provided an illustrated talk on livestock health care topics. Following the barbecue, £250 was donated to Parkinson’s UK.

The Marketing Director for Strangford Down, Alan Montgomery, is dealing with Linden Foods on a weekly basis to obtain the best prices on behalf of group members. Alan gave credit to Gary Foster of Linden Foods for coming to various meetings organised by the group and dealing with any questions raised. Gary even brought some of his own lambs to a meeting to illustrate what to consider when choosing lambs. Close relationships with the factory are important.

Alan referred to the lift in prices last year and went on to reflect on the past twenty six years since Strangford Down was formed. During that period of time the producers have supplied in the region of 400,000 lambs to a value of £32 million.

Alan thanked Crosby Cleland, the Business Executive, for his work during the year in negotiations with the factory and for his expertise and contacts in the beef and sheep industry. He also thanked the man responsible for the collection and delivery of Strangford Down livestock, Pat Carr, for his reliable service and obliging nature in organising groups of animals.

Strangford Down has four loading points for lambs in Co Down and supplies Linden Foods in Dungannon on a weekly basis. Lambs are booked in with the Strangford Down co-ordinator, the lambs are collected from the four points, delivered to the factory and the grades are sent out by e mail that afternoon. Business Executive Crosby Cleland can be contacted on 07525237233 and will be happy to provide further information on the services available through Strangford Down.