Cull ewe price stability a lesson for supermarkets, says NSA chief

Lessons can be learned from the stable price of cull ewes, which stands in stark contrast to fluctuating lamb prices, said National Sheep Association chief executive Phil Stocker.

The cull ewe price has stayed strong during this difficult period for new and old season lamb, because it is clearly segmented from the lamb trade, instead largely supplying our domestic ethnic and catering markets, said Stocker. Because it is not imported either or sourced by supermarkets that will quickly jump to imported products for short-term gains, prices have remained good.

This reveals an interesting lesson about how global our lamb market has become and how badly the UK can be affected by decisions our retailers make to take advantage of worldwide surpluses.

He added that the NSA had warned UK supermarkets that they risk their long term domestic supply base by making short term price-led decisions to buy imported lamb when UK product price is high.

In light of the volatility of lamb prices, Stocker said that farmers need to come up with new ways of stabilising their cash flow and maximising their profitability.

NSA remains committed to the principle that the marketplace must pay for premium UK lamb, but I do advise farmers to also look beyond that and see what can be done differently in their businesses to ensure a long-term future, while managing the constant volatility, he says.

Knowing your customer and understanding their specifications is key, he said. It may be that small adjustments in management could result in an increased price.

Farmers could take advantage of changes to the tax laws, enabling them to be assessed over a five year period, continued Stocker, while other financial adjustments such as applying for grants or environmental schemes could pay dividends.

Small scale renewable energy is a valid option for many at the moment, he said. Installing solar panels on sheep buildings may be an opportunity to secure a consistent income over several years.

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