Farmers and meat factories divided over low sheep price

IFA sheep chairman John Lynskey has urged factories to adopt a more responsible, longer term approach to ensure the continued supply of quality assured Irish lamb out of season.

A meeting between the IFA and Meat Industry Ireland (MII), and representatives of the main sheepmeat processors, has failed to quell rising frustration among hogget finishers over the prices on offer from the meat plants.

The IFA said farmers are making losses due to the low factory prices, while MII said processors are currently faced with a very challenging marketplace and cannot raise their prices.

Hogget prices are down 65c/kg or €15 per head on this time last year. In some cases, with weight cuts, the losses are €20 per lamb. With Irish hogget farmers being driven out of the sector, IFA says factories face increased dependence on imports.

Mr Lynskey said it is in the interests of meat plants and the broader sheep sector that hogget finishers have a strong viable business.

“The approach from some lamb factories in applying an across-the-board clipping charge on all sheep being processed is very wrong,” he said. “The factories need to reconsider this policy, which is not working. The IFA is working with Minister Creed and the Department of Agriculture on a clean livestock policy in the sheep sector.”

IFA also discussed a number of other sheep issues with MII at the meeting, including stronger EU support for the sheep sector around the outcome of the recent EU Sheep Reflection Group established by Commissioner Phil Hogan in Brussels. Mr Lynskey said IFA and MII will continue to work at Brussels level to advance these recommendations.

MII’s Cormac Healy has advised hogget finishers to move lambs when market-fit to avoid having even heavier lambs in the coming weeks.

“While clearly there is disappointment with the current price levels compared with the last number of years, processors are faced with a very challenging marketplace and trading conditions are exacerbated by a marked increase in the number of very heavy lambs coming through at present,” said Mr Healy.

“Processors have delivered improved prices in recent years but at present a number of factors are putting a major drag on market returns; these were discussed at the meeting.”

Mr Healy said the excessive number of very heavy lambs coming out at present are driving down the trade. Legs and other cuts from these carcases are outside market specifications and customers do not want them.

He said fall in returns from the fifth quarter means that this contribution is back on this time last year. He said UK lambs have been trading at a lower price for some time, which makes them competitive in export markets than Irish lambs.

The MII executive also the weaker sterling, now 13% weaker than this time last year, also makes UK lambs very competitive in the marketplace. The French market is also seeing strong domestic supply of Lacaune lambs, in greater numbers and earlier than previous years, added Cormac Healy.

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