Volatile lamb market proving a frustration for sheep farmers

A rise in the number of lambs coming to market triggered a sharp drop in prices which has led to farmers holding more lambs back

A farmer with his flock of sheep
A farmer with his flock of sheep

NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe has outlined the frustration that sheep farmers across the country are expressing at the volatility in the lamb market, warning that this instability is not beneficial for consumers either.

The past few weeks have seen damaging fluctuations in lamb prices across England and Wales. A rise in the number of lambs coming to market triggered a sharp drop in prices which has led to farmers holding more lambs back, with throughputs then down over a third last week.

Mr Sercombe, a sheep farmer in Leicestershire, said he’d been contacted by many NFU livestock members expressing their concerns.

“As a sheep farmer, I share the complete frustration that our members have in trying to do business in this volatile market, and I know only too well of the impact a 25% drop in the price of lamb over the course of a week has on a farming business,” said Mr Sercombe.

“Sheep farmers, particularly those in the uplands, have had a tough year and this is the last thing we want to see. It is unsustainable for the prices to fluctuate like this and it’s bound to have an impact on farmer confidence going forward as well as the weight and the consistency of quality of lambs.

“The situation benefits no one. I would encourage farmers to work with their auctioneer or fieldsman to plan their marketing season to help them to better deal with this volatile market and produce a better product for the consumer.

“It is also essential that we start to see consistent demand with more British lamb on the shelves. We continue to urge retailers to demonstrate their commitment to British lamb, but the latest Beef and Lamb Watch figures from Eblex show that the proportion of British packs of lamb on supermarket shelves has actually fallen compared to this time last year.

“We are well into the British season now and it is unacceptable to see any store that talks about stocking the best in season to be sourcing high levels of imported lamb.

“We frequently hear fine words from retail leaders, but in many of the figures we have seen, there appears to be a serious disconnection between senior executives, buyers and packers.”

Richard Potts, NFU Northumberland county adviser based in Hexham, added: “The NFU is committed to working with the supermarkets to improve their commitment to British sourcing and we will be holding them to account over promises they have made and their true British credentials.”

Next week, the NFU will also be part of an industry-wide delegation to New Zealand, organised by Eblex, aimed at sharing knowledge and getting a better understanding of the difficulties faced by farmers in each country.

It is essential that we start to see consistent demand with more British lamb on the shelves

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