Perfect chance for sheep sector to have its day in the sun

Factories

Photo Brian Farrell
Photo Brian Farrell
Martin Coughlan

Martin Coughlan

Although prices on the ground are reported as €5.40-5.50/kg, all the processors on our table apart from Kepak Athleague are sitting tight.

A rise of 10c/kg from Kepak took their quote for lamb to €5.00+15c/kg, bringing them to within 20c/kg of table-toppers Kildare Chilling, who continue on €5.20+10c/kg quality assurance (QA).

On the mart front prices continue to push upwards, with Ivan Moffitt of Manorhamilton saying all sheep were "freely up €10/hd".

Michael Harty of Roscrea and Nenagh detected an "anxiousness" among his buyers last week when bigger numbers failed to materialise.

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Looking at the bigger picture, data from Bord Bia on factory sheep throughput shows that overall numbers in 2019 fell by around 7pc to 2,782,659. That fall was composed of 103,162 fewer lambs and 97,479 fewer cull ewes and rams.

The lamb kill for the last week of 2019 was 5,470 ahead of the same week in 2018 at 27,719. Cull ewes, however, were 294 less at 1,581.

Overall, 2019 was a mixed year for those in the sheep business.

There was a great belief that the fact that Ramadan and Easter fell within two weeks of each other that a bumper harvest might be had. While the €6/kg mark was breached and up to €6.50 was paid, it was a very short flowering as prices slipped quickly to €5.80/kg.

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And then after an autumn of discontent for cattle men, the sheep men were the ones who saw their prices suddenly take off in November as Chinese demand kicked in.

With that decline in factory throughput I'm left wondering what great initiative might be mooted by the factories to assure themselves of continuing supply.

Will we see their plans from a few years ago to increase the breeding flock reinvented?

Given all the difficulties in the beef sector I can see the Government targeting potential in the sheep sector for expansion.

As it is, some in the cattle sector have begun to expand their sheep numbers as they recognise its potential.

In an election year anything could be possible; granted, politicians' promises are often not worth the paper they are written on, but I'd like to see some creative thinking from the likes of the IFA and ICSA focused on guaranteeing future market returns for those in the sector at grassroots level.

The potential of the sheep sector has been largely overlooked in the hype around dairying and the drama on the beef side.

Maybe 2020 will be the year when this often-overlooked sector takes centre stage.

Indo Farming


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