Cross-industry group meets to tackle light lamb market

A task and finish group representing every stage of the production process gathered in Aberystwyth this week to find solutions to the challenging market conditions for lighter lambs. Farmers from several parts of Wales, FUW and NFU Cymru, the National Sheep Association, processors’ representatives and Welsh Government officials met at the headquarters of red meat levy body Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC).

The group shared information on why prices for lambs in the light and superlight categories – carcases below 14kg – had been significantly below those for heavier carcases during recent seasons.

“A range of factors have come together to undermine the market for lighter lambs,” said Prys Morgan, HCC’s Head of Operations. “Long-term trends towards exporting cuts rather than whole carcases and economic problems in traditional light lamb export markets in the Mediterranean have been exacerbated by the emergence of competition from countries such as Romania and poor prices for ‘fifth quarter’ products and skins. The future of export markets in southern Europe is also made more uncertain by Brexit.

“HCC’s latest market intelligence data shows that lambs in the light category are fetching 88% of the price per kilo of standard lambs at markets in Wales, with superlight prices lower again, in a trend we’ve seen grow over recent years. This undoubtedly creates problems for many sheep farmers.”

The group agreed to identify a range of solutions across the supply chain to create a more buoyant market for lighter lambs. This includes addressing genetics and flock management to further reduce the numbers of lambs produced in the lightest categories, market development work both at home and abroad, and understanding the unintendend consequences of some agri-environment schemes.

“This first meeting of the Light Lamb Task and Finish Group was a useful first step, to share understanding and discuss where action can be taken,” added Prys Morgan. “But it’s important to continue to work on practical steps before our next meeting in May. From HCC’s point of view this includes exploring opportunities in the domestic market, continuing to support promotional activity in countries such as Italy and Spain, and researching potential new markets in the Middle East, as well as exploring ways to help farmers to access the latest information on how to improve their flocks through genetics and other management tools.

“It’s vital that we work together right across the industry; prices will be raised by both stimulating demand and reducing supply of lambs in the light categories.”