With lamb producers now facing the lowest prices offered in the past three years, the National Sheep Association (NSA) this week called for progress on levy repatriation worth more that £1 million a year to allow more cash to go into promotion and marketing in Scotland.
The NSA’s Scottish development officer, George Milne, described the consequences if prices remain at the present depressed levels as “devastating”.
“If sheep prices continue at the current levels,” he warned, “it will leave producers wondering what the future might hold. We met Quality Meat Scotland before Christmas to discuss the problems and identify a way forward and what is very clear is that there is an urgent need to make progress on the issue of levy repatriation.”
Because promotional levies are only paid when lambs enter the slaughterhouse, and with Scotland sending a large percentage of its lambs to be slaughtered in England and Wales, this money is “lost” to Scottish promotional activity.
Milne said: “The fact that Scotland is ‘missing out’ on over £1m of sheepmeat and pig levy per year from animals born and reared in Scotland but slaughtered south of the Border is simply not acceptable.”
The issue has been unresolved for a number of years but Milne said the NSA would now be raising the issue along with its wider concern about the sustainability of the industry at its next meeting with Scottish cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead.
Giving practical expression to the current financial situation in the lamb market, Jimmy Sinclair, the NSA’s Scottish chairman, said that, since October, prime lamb prices had continued to drop on a near weekly basis.
“This in turn has had a knock-on effect on the store trade. You don’t really need reminding of all the reasons for the ‘price drop’, as you hear them all on a daily basis especially that lamb is far too expensive for the housewife to buy.
“We are continuously being told that we must produce what the market requires,” he said. “I would suggest we are producing the best of quality for all types of markets, but the truth of the matter is the market does not always want to pay the price that is required.”
He wondered how much longer those in the industry could stand a price drop of anything between £15 and £40 per head, with cull ewes experiencing much the same decrease in value.
“On the other side of the equation,” he said, “we are faced with the spiralling cost of production.
“There is no easy-fix with the present economic climate but we have to encourage more of the general public to eat lamb and this is where NSA wants to see a much larger amount of money being put towards the promotion and marketing of Scotch lamb, both home and abroad.”