Farming leaders have this week put pressure on both government and the major retailers in a desperate attempt to raise the price paid for lamb.
In Scotland, representatives from the National Sheep Association (NSA), NFU Scotland and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) met Scottish Government officials for a “full and frank” discussion on the difficulties currently faced by the sheep industry.
George Milne, the NSA’s Scottish region development officer, said he had called for immediate action from the Scottish Government for emergency financial support.
This cash would be used by QMS for additional promotion to encourage the consumption of Scotch lamb. He claimed it would also help clear the backlog of lambs built up on farms following the exceptionally wet weather conditions.
He was supported by NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller, who pointed to the “strategic importance” of the Scottish sheep sector to both the food and farming industries.
“This year has clearly illustrated how fragile and vulnerable the sector is,” he said. “It is appropriate that, as a group of stakeholders, we map out the routes that will make our sheep sector more sustainable in the long term.”
The meeting heard proposals from QMS, with several options that could help increase lamb consumption if appropriate funding became available.
Jim McLaren, the chairman of QMS, confirmed that additional resources would allow the organisation to deliver an extra Scotch lamb promotional campaign on top of the main campaign which ran in the autumn.
“This would allow us to bolster the loyalty of consumers and customers at a time of year when there are an unusually high number of lambs still to be marketed in Scotland,” he said.
Yesterday, the Scottish Government re-iterated a promise made by farm minister Richard Lochhead last week that he was willing to consider any proposals from the industry seeking Scottish Government support.
Meanwhile, in England, the NFU compared the farm-gate collapse in the value of lamb to the marginal reduction of lamb on supermarket shelves, claiming farm-gate prices had dropped by nearly a quarter but prices in the shops had only fallen by 2 per cent.
NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe said bluntly: “Currently farmers are suffering, and consumers aren’t benefitting, so just who is reaping the rewards of the ‘Great Lamb Robbery’?
“Many of our sheep farmers, particularly those in the uplands, have been experiencing a major downturn in lamb prices.
“I understand their frustrations at a time when they’re also dealing with rising input costs and poor weather.”
The NFU has written to all the major retailers urging them to show long-term commitment to UK livestock producers.