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Independent.ie

Thursday 8 December 2016

'Lack of markets for hill lambs crucifying producer margins'

Farming Independent team

Published 02/11/2016 | 17:00

Young sheep enjoy the autumn sunshine as they hide among the long grass at Kiltyclougher, Co. Leitrim recently. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Young sheep enjoy the autumn sunshine as they hide among the long grass at Kiltyclougher, Co. Leitrim recently. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

THE development of an organic label for Irish hill lamb should be considered, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has claimed.

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The INHFA's livestock chairman, Brendan Joyce, said a lack of markets for light lamb was crucifying producer margins, and forcing down prices across the sector.

"Quotes from factories are difficult to secure, and those that are quoting for lambs of less than 15kg are offering around €4/kg," Joyce explained.

"Prices like this are not sustainable but it will get worse in coming years if action is not taken," said Joyce.

He said the long-term outlook for light hill lamb was bleak unless a structured marketing strategy - including the possibility of switching to organic - was devised for the sector. "There is a real concern that increased sheep numbers on the commonages, driven by the new commonage plans, will push prices down further," he predicted.

Joyce said the re-establishment of the light lamb market was critical to the delivery of a better price for all sheep farmers. "The poor return for early lamb is forcing farmers into mid-season lamb which is delivering an over-supply, especially as we move into autumn," said Joyce.

Lamb prices have continued to fall with farmers being quoted €4.30-4.40/kg for quality assured French lamb. This is running at 50c/kg (€10/head) behind last year's prices.

"We need Minister Creed to take control of this and focus resources in trying to deliver a light lamb market. We believe there are market opportunities in North Africa and inside the EU," said Mr Joyce.

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The INHFA called on Agriculture Minister, Michael Creed, to set up a working group from all relevant stakeholders to look at market opportunities and the possibility of an organic label for hill lambs which would aid in its marketability.

Declan Fennell of Bord Bia pointed out that the traditional EU outlets for light lamb in Spain and Portugal had not recovered since the economic crash of 2008. Meanwhile, continuing political instability had hit markets in North Africa.

Declan Fennell
Declan Fennell

He said light lamb had become more of a niche product but farmers had to ensure their lambs were in the correct weight range (16-17kg) and had the right fat cover and conformation. The INHFA and Bord Bia are scheduled to meet to discuss the issue of light lambs over the next 10 days.

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