If the French market is fit to return well over €6/kg, what have Irish factories being doing to get a piece of it? "Cleaning the farmers" was the blunt reply I got from the man from Manorhamilton.
Sean McNamara, the ICSA's sheep chair, was equally blunt yesterday morning: "Sheep farmers are very depressed. Prices are poor but it's the factories' attitude that is cutting. They really don't appear to care what happens to the farmer or his family. They seem intent on breaking us."
He also questions how farmers can allow a situation to continue where Kepak Athleague are cutting the base price for fat lambs by up to 50c/kg.
"If you have a U5 or R5 they cut you 50c/kg, meaning you're on €3.90/kg."
An issue raised by John Brooks, a former ICSA sheep chairman, is the absence of Department of Agriculture supervision on the kill line - and there is no automatic right of appeal. Part of what is depressing the market is the increase in UK production.
Figures from Britain's Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) show that total sheep meat production in the EU has increased year on year by 28,000 tonnes to 420,000 tonnes despite production in Spain falling by 3,200 tonnes.
"This is entirely driven by an increase in production in the UK," the report states. All of this despite imports to the EU from third countries such as New Zealand also declining.
At home factory quotes yesterday remained unchanged, with Kildare Chilling continuing to lead the way for both spring lambs and cull ewes with respective quotes of €4.45+10c/kg quality assurance and €2.40+10c/kg.
The two Irish Country Meat plants at Navan and Camolin are next on €4.35+10c/kg QA for lamb, with Kepak Athleague 5c/kg less at €4.30/kg but with that bigger 15c/kg quality bonus. Dawn Ballyhaunis were unavailable to quote, while Moyvalley Meats are not killing lambs this week.
Both ICM plants and Kepak quoted €2.30/kg for cull ewes yesterday.
Figures from Bord Bia show that for the week ended October 19, a total of 65,156 sheep were sent for processing in here. This is a decrease of 1,803 on the corresponding figure in 2018. Cumulatively, throughput for sheep in 2019 is down 8pc on 12 months ago, with 201,977 less sheep being sent to factories. (2,396,629 in 2018 vs 2,194,652 in 2019)
The average factory price for lambs in Ireland for the week ending October 19 was €4.17/kg excluding VAT. This is a reduction of 23c/kg on the same period in 2018.
The British lamb price for last week was £3.74/kg, which equates to €4.33/kg. This was aided by a strengthening sterling in the past week. Northern Ireland lamb prices are standing at €3.93/kg.
Hidden away in those figures is the reality that factories continue to import significant numbers from the North. The latest figures from the North's Livestock and Meat Commission show that 8,720 lambs went south two weeks ago for slaughter, along with 1,174 cull ewes and rams.
This compares to 8,296 lambs and 1,077 ewes/rams imported for direct slaughter the previous week. Despite these continuing exports lamb prices in Northern Ireland continue to slip, averaging €3.85/kg last week, which is why the numbers coming in here continue to rise.
That fact is no consolation to hard-pressed sheep farmers in the South.
Kevin Murphy reported that his general run of factory lambs continued steady at prices from €85-95/hd. On the butcher side, 49kgs at 98/hd appeared a fair reflection of what the nicer heavy lamb was averaging, although heavier lambs did see up to €100/hd. The store trade, despite smaller numbers, was tougher. So too was the trade for cull ewes, with heavy ewes selling from €80-102/hd and lighter feeder types making €55-80/hd.
Trade for store lambs was reported as being improved by €2-4/hd, with prices ranging from €55-80/hd. 35-40kg lambs sold from €82-85/hd with 40-50kgs making from €86-102/hd. Brood ewes met a full clearance and topped out at €160/hd, with cast ewes seeing a top of €110/hd. Rams sold from €100-400/hd.
Numbers are reducing here as the autumn slips away, meaning that night sales will resume this week. better trade was reported for fat lambs with prices ranging from €85-92/hd. On the store front prices were also stronger, with Suffolk and Texels selling from €60-75/hd. Mountain sheep were a tougher trade, however. Heavy cull ewes were in short supply but the lighter feeding types made up to €70/hd.
As in many other places last week prices here also trended upwards on the back of greater wholesaler activity. Lamb prices generally operated around the €2/kg mark, while in the cull ewe section prices ranged from €84-110/hd.
A big sale with fleshed lambs over 47kg selling from €98-104/hd. The store lamb was a lively trade with 26-32kgs selling from €60-75/hd. Those weighing 32-40kgs made €78-80/hd. Forward stores in the 45-48kg bracket made up to €95/hd. Cast ewes sold for €5 with the €1/kg for older types, with younger fitter types making €10-15 with the €1/kg. Breeding hoggets sold from €150-182/hd, while two and three-year-old ewes ranged from €130-155/hd.
The story here saw lambs average €84/hd, with a top call of €124/hd. Ewes sold to a top of €137/hd, with the average price working out at €109/hd. Breeding hoggets averaged €158/hd to a top of €187/hd.