Farm Ireland

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Quality product is essential

The end of another year, completely different to the previous one. It began with a good start in spring when we had plenty of grass for ewes as they lambed and good weather to put them out.

Everything went downhill as we moved into April and more or less stayed that way for the remainder of the year.

One good thing happened when we re-housed our cows and calves in early May. We then made silage from the remaining grass that these cows had been grazing.

This has turned out to be very good and is being fed to the ewes now. It was baled on May 25 and is definitely the best we have for this year.

Selling lambs has also been a struggle all year as lambs were slow to finish off grass alone. The fact that prices were down by almost 50c/kg didn't help either.

Even though meal prices were up by at least €50/t there was no option but to feed all lambs before slaughter. The extra cost has left our margin very tight.

The big question now is whether the Irish sheep sector can achieve the 10pc target set out in Food Harvest 2020.

As with any industry, growth is important but it cannot be achieved at the expense of the farmer.

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To make a reasonable margin we need a mid-season lamb price of €100 or €5/kg.

With this price, ewe numbers have the potential to grow. A lot of sheep farmers have a real fear that if ewe numbers were to increase by say 300,000 or 500,000, the extra lambs would cause the price to crash. Last spring did nothing to dispel this fear.

With budget cuts and austerity all over Europe, the economic outlook is not good.

However, by marketing lamb as a premium product and maintaining the quality it should be possible to maintain current retail prices.

And I believe that there is scope at these levels for processors to return a price of €5/kg to the farmer.

Production has fallen from a high of 80,000t in 1999 to approximately 48,000t.

The decline in the national flock has been halted and with our potential to produce a top quality grass-fed product, we should be in a better position than many other EU sheep producing countries where rising concentrate costs are becoming a real worry.

After a poor grass-producing year we can now see this difference more clearly than ever.

To achieve growth, the sheep farmer needs some surety on prices.

Processors will have to look at more long-term price contracts which give some price reassurance to farmers.

In developing these contracts, processors will have to secure a better position for sheep farmers supplying top quality-assured lamb to specific requirements.


As farmers, we must also hold up our side of the deal and provide processors with a consistent quality product.

This brings up the recurring question of the quality assurance scheme and how we are going to entice more farmers into the scheme.

If numbers remain at a low level we may not be able to tender for some contracts. A strong reward for quality assurance is vital.

Together, as producers and processors, we have a chance, but fighting over 5c or half a kilo every week will not work.

As this is the last article for the year, I would like to wish all you readers a Happy Christmas and a productive New Year.

John Large is a sheep farmer from Co Tipperary. Email:

Indo Farming