NORTHERN IRELAND, UK - The Ulster Farmers’ Union has met with the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association to discuss concerns about lamb price stability and other matters of importance to the sheep sector.
Following the meeting UFU deputy president, Victor Chestnutt said: “New season lamb prices have been volatile in recent years and this has been no different in 2016. This year the poor spring has undoubtedly added cost to sheep production and instability with prices is making it difficult to market lambs and give farmers the best chance of making a margin.”
Mr Chestnutt added that factors such as currency and demand from Republic of Ireland plants have an influence on this instability and as such we need to look objectively at what can be done to better the position of Northern Ireland’s sheep producers.
Arguably one area that must be closer examined is improving the marketability of Northern Ireland's lambs.
“While seeking new market access is something we continue to highlight with Government, ensuring that our product is attractive to both new and existing customers is extremely important,” said Mr Chestnutt.
He also highlighted that there is a growing ethnic population in Europe, which is one of the few really encouraging growth markets for lamb. “We as an industry have to look at ways in which we can market lamb to these consumers because our options are currently limited,” he added.
The Union also used the meeting as an opportunity to discuss Quality Assurance for lamb.
“Processors have reported that it is becoming increasingly difficult to sell non-quality assured lambs, and meetings with retailers at Balmoral show have confirmed that they will only source quality assured lambs for their retail stores,” said Mr Chestnutt.
However the UFU has noted that just over half of lambs slaughtered in Northern Ireland are quality assured, meaning there is a significant number of lambs not eligible for the UK retail market and alternative outlets must be found.
“While many sheep farmers will quite rightly argue that there is not enough financial incentive to become farm quality assured, the other side of the coin is that the less quality assured lambs that we produce, the less shelf space we will pick up in major retailers.
"Where we can’t deliver on quality assurance and volume, retailers will argue that they will have to source elsewhere,” said the deputy president, adding that as an industry we need to decide whether having so few quality assured lambs is an acceptable place to be if we are serious about trying to market lamb better.
UFU has also encouraged NIMEA members to continue developing EID systems in their plants which allows more information to be passed back to farmers.
“On an individual basis this is particularly important for lamb carcase classification, while we also feel that the industry should be seeking assistance from DAERA to try and get more post mortem information feedback on batches of lambs,” said Mr Chestnutt.
Interest in this information is growing to help aid farm performance, however further uptake is being restricted because the technology is still considered relatively expensive.
“This is why DAERA must commit to including the technology in their Farm Business Investment scheme, a move which many sheep farmers would welcome,” he said.
TheSheepSite News Desk