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Faroe Islands’ lamb and meat trade operates ‘like the wild west’

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Lambs on the Faroe Islands. Photo: Claire Mc Cormack

Lambs on the Faroe Islands. Photo: Claire Mc Cormack

Jens Ivan í Gerdinum of the islands’ Agricultural Agency. Photo: Claire Mc Cormack

Jens Ivan í Gerdinum of the islands’ Agricultural Agency. Photo: Claire Mc Cormack

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Lambs on the Faroe Islands. Photo: Claire Mc Cormack

The development of the agricultural sector on the Faroe Islands “is always sacrificed” to protect the fishing industry where 90pc of product (mainly farmed salmon) is exported.

Jens Ivan í Gerdinum of the islands’ Agricultural Agency says its domestic lamb and beef trade now operates “like the wild west” with “more then 50pc of meat traded on “the black market” — while the nation continues to rely on large volumes of unrestricted meat imports.

Mr í Gerdinum, who has lobbied the Faroese government to establish an agricultural policy for several years, says there is “enormous potential” for the islands to be self-sufficient in meat, dairy, and some grain “if we could just get our act together”.

“We have only one sheep breed, a Faroese breed of Northern European short-tailed sheep, small and hardy developed throughout the centuries.

“We do not allow livestock imports to protect from unwanted diseases, I’m very glad for that because our breed would be extinct by now.

“It’s not a very prolific breed, it gives 0.8 lambs per year, the carcass weight of the lamb is 15kg, the wool is not good quality.

“But their motherly instinct is superior, and the characteristics of the meat makes it possible to ferment and dry which is not possible with other breeds.

“If you take very good care of your Faroese sheep, they will give you two lambs each year. They seek out the highest mountains and steepest cliffs so if we fully utilised our natural resources, they would fit the bill perfectly.”

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Jens Ivan í Gerdinum of the islands’ Agricultural Agency. Photo: Claire Mc Cormack

Jens Ivan í Gerdinum of the islands’ Agricultural Agency. Photo: Claire Mc Cormack

Jens Ivan í Gerdinum of the islands’ Agricultural Agency. Photo: Claire Mc Cormack

Today there are 400 registered farms on the Faroe Islands with the government owning 50pc of the land which is rented out to “tenant farmers” — considered the most commercial operators.

The average sheep flock is 100-120 ewes, with an annual net turnover of €10,000 without VAT and wages. The average price for autumn lamb is €11/kg.

The largest sheep farm on the islands has 700 ewes on 1,200-1,500ha of grazing land — including a lot of unproductive barren land and rocks.

“I love farming but the real money is in fishing, that is difficult for me to say.

“It’s a bit like the wild west here when it comes to selling to the domestic market, way more than 50pc of the meat is not registered.

“If you ask an insurance company how many ewes are on the Faroe Islands, they we will reply ‘5,000’ because that’s the number insured — but we have 75,000-80,000 breeding ewes and everyone knows it.

“Our approach to food security and self-sufficiency is horrendous, you never ever hear any politician being concerned about food security, safety, and self-sufficiency.

“If we doubled the quotas of our dairies, we would be self-sufficient in all dairy products, we could be self-sufficient in our lamb and beef (which comes from the dairy herd) and we need to cultivate more of our land — but there is no political interest in farming, it’s always about supporting the fisheries.”

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