Lamb carcasses hanging up in abattoir© FLPA/John Eveson/Rex Shutterstock

Shareholders are being urged to ensure that farmers remain in control of a company set up to bolster the market for British lamb.

Warwickshire-based Farmers First slaughters about 5% of UK finished lamb with an annual turnover of approximately £50m.

The company has its roots in the late 1990s when thousands of farmers donated money to set up the Farmers Ferry, which exported sheep to continental Europe.

See also: Farmers First wins CBI award

The farmer-run ferry is credited with putting a floor in the market for lamb, which had seen prices slump at a time when mainstream ferry companies refused to get involved with exports.

The company subsequently purchased its own abattoir and continues to slaughter 12,000 lambs per week, purchasing animals both direct from farms and from livestock markets.

Some 2,700 farmers – most of them livestock producers – remain shareholders of the company, which is due to hold its annual general meeting on 16 May.

But chairman and farmer-founder Terry Bayliss fears the company’s future hangs in the balance because a minority group of non-farming shareholders could be elected to the board.

Farmer influence

The company’s primary aim was to give farmers some influence further up the supply chain, said Mr Bayliss. This meant it was important that the business remained in farmers’ hands.

“We pursue viable markets for UK lamb – particularly in continental Europe.

“By generating additional demand in the marketplace, we create more competition among buyers of UK finished lambs, thereby supporting farmgate prices against further erosion by our global rivals.”

Allowing a small group of minority non-farming shareholders on to the board would not be in the interests of the company or its farmer shareholders, said Mr Bayliss.

Notice of the company’s AGM and proposed resolutions which could see non-farming shareholders elected were sent to shareholders last week.

Mr Baylis said: “It is essential that shareholders exercise their right to vote – and if they can’t attend the AGM itself, post their proxy form as soon as possible.

A telephone helpline has been set up on 01874 754 329.

Farmers Weekly has contacted the group of minority shareholders and asked them to comment on their intentions and reasons for seeking election to the board of directors.

We will post any response as and when it is received.