Clearer market signals needed for spring lamb

Wednesday, 19 April, 2017

With new season lamb prices below cost of production for the third consecutive year, Ulster Farmers’ Union beef and lamb chairman, Crosby Cleland, says processors must bring more structure and profitability to the supply chain.

“Processors have been trying to buy spring lambs around the 470p/kg mark over the past week. This is far short of producer expectations. Early lamb is a high cost system and realistically farmers need a steady price of around 540p/kg to cover their costs and leave something for their own labour and future investment,” says Mr Cleland.

Mr Cleland, a County Down sheep farmer, says three consecutive years of prices below production costs is unsustainable.  According to the UFU, some sheep producers have also been told by processors that their lambs are not wanted by the market.  “This is a major setback for farmers who have put in a lot of hard work to produce high quality early lamb. It shows a lack of joined up thinking in the supply chain that there are not clear signals coming from the market about when processors are ready to switch from hoggets to new season lamb,” says Mr Cleland.

With Brexit a major focus for the sheep industry, given Northern Ireland’s reliance on exports, Mr Cleland says it is also an opportunity to discuss our existing production systems and how the industry can become more market focused and profitable.  “Processors, and the rest of the supply chain, must be clear on what exactly they want, when they want it and be prepared to pay a fair price.  For now, farmers are receiving too many mixed messages,” he says.