A group of south-west farmers has offered to help the 1500 suppliers of troubled processor Lloyd Maunder after the company announced this week it was to end its lamb operation at Willand, Devon.

The group, formed from members of the Lloyd Maunder Producers’ Forum, previously represented farmers’ views in the processor’s dealings with Sainsbury.

Sheep farmer and forum chairman David Disney said the new group would work to identify destinations for lamb, now Lloyd Maunder’s 500,000-a-year demand had vanished.

The closure will leave many farmers fearing they will struggle to find suitable outlets.

“A meeting was held on Monday (16 January) to discuss this very uncomfortable situation.

We are convinced there are a number of opportunities.

We are confident the firm will help us initiate dialogue with its 1500 suppliers.”

The announcement that Lloyd Maunder was to end lamb processing came as many farmers were anticipating selling spring lambs from early March.

Some farmers feared other abattoirs, on contract to major supermarkets, would not want to accept spring lambs until greater numbers began to arrive in May.

But new destinations have begun to emerge for lamb. Keith Jasper, managing director of Cornish abattoir HR Jasper & Son, said:

“We are looking for early spring lambs and we’ll take what we can.”

A spokeswoman for Tesco told Farmers Weekly:

“We will be sourcing British early spring lambs as part of our new Finest range.

Our standard lamb sales have seen enormous growth, so our suppliers St Merryn Foods and Southern Counties Fresh Foods are increasing their kill in the south west.

“We are happy to talk to any farmer in the region to see if we can provide an outlet for their early spring lambs.”

But some traders fear a sudden glut of early lambs could damage the already weak hogget trade.

Alan Venner of Exeter Market Auctioneers said: “Prices are only just over 1/kg for the best sorts.

Very early lambs are a pretty specialist market and the big retailers are often reluctant to take new season lambs until they see numbers are consistent.

“But there are other firms out there and someone will fill the void left by Lloyd Maunder.

Perhaps this is an opportunity for Midlands processors to source more lambs from the south west.”

A spokesman for Lloyd Maunder said the firm was in discussion with its buying agents to see how it could “organise a transition of the business, particularly to take care of the early lamb situation”.

ian.ashbridge@rbi.co.uk