I have been involved with several sheep producer groups in Mayo over the years. I find that these groups are significantly important, as they provide me and all the members with a solid marketplace to promote and sell our stock.
It was just over 25 years ago when I first became involved with producer groups, not knowing at the time how successful they would be. I was involved in setting up groups, including the South Mayo Quality Lamb producer group, The Mayo Mule and Greyface group and most recently the Mayo Blackface sheep group.
These groups have grown and developed substantially over the years with the aim of improving the quality of sheep breeds, developing a marketplace and providing an outlet for producers to sell their stock.
Over the years I have seen the progression of the groups. For example, the Mayo Mule and Greyface Group had their first sale over 25 years ago with about 100 ewe lambs and ewe hoggets. Now the group sells over 4,500 sheep at their sales.
I think the marketing of a farmer's produce is just as important as any other part of farming. If there is a poor marketplace with poor prices, what is the point of doing all the hard work during the year?
The coming together of farmers gives them stronger bargaining power with the likes of meat factories and feed companies. The groups give their members the opportunity to get the best price for their animals. They also provide buyers with a larger choice and a certain quality of sheep.
With all groups there has to be rules and regulations. These are very important and I have seen this first hand as I have been active as chairman and treasurer on the committees of the various groups. Without rules, these groups don't work.
The running and co-ordination of these groups is time consuming and even more so in the recent years as they have grown in size. A few years ago the sheep groups came together to set up an office where all meetings and coordination of the groups could be carried out. The office is in Ballinrobe and the work is carried out by two locals who came on board through the rural social scheme.
The South Mayo Quality Lamb Producer group is a group based on the sale of quality factory lambs and has dealt with the two main meat factories in the west over the years, Dawn Meats, in Ballyhaunis, and Kepak Athleague.
The group provides many benefits to farmers such as a ram premium scheme where the members get a premium to buy quality terminal sire rams.
I think this scheme has brought about a large improvement in the quality of lambs over the years and this is evident by the increase in E and U grade lambs.
The Mayo Mule and Greyface group and Mayo Blackface group are run in similar fashions. Both groups intend to provide quality breeding ewes, lambs and hoggets. The sheep are sold at sales in Ballinrobe in the autumn. The group's success can be measured by the amount of repeat customers.
Being part of these groups, I see the benefit of getting prices of €40-50 above the factory price. Both groups continue to develop, with members constantly trying to improve their stock. Some members have begun recording their sheep for Lambplus with the aim of improving the breeds.
I find these groups important for my farm as they provide a marketplace and great services. Having a good market for your sheep is the most important part of farming.
Tom Staunton is a sheep farmer from Tourmakeady, Co Mayo