18 February 2000

CRISIS, BUTTIDETURNS?

What crisis? Tony Blair may say there isnt one, but most sheep producers wouldnt agree. Its a very real crisis in the countryside and the sheep industry is in the thick of it.

Thankfully, it looks as if the tide is turning and theres more reason to feel bullish about prospects this year. At last lamb prices look more sustainable and hogget finishers may have decent returns for the first time in a few years.

Despite rising prices, incomes may not improve dramatically until skins become worth more than a pint of beer, and draconian post-BSE slaughter regulations are lifted to reduce processing costs.

Flock owners know they have to keep a tight rein on costs, which is one issue tackled by a leading sheep specialist in this Update. He suggests making better use of out-of-season grass – caused by global warming – and getting the most from ewe subsidy.

Ewe subsidy is likely to be closely examined in this years EU sheepmeat review, so it appears we havent completely escaped the new Agenda 2000 regulations affecting all other sectors. We look at whats likely to happen and when.

But with this years cut in SAP, ensuring you obtain top prices for your lambs is vital. We look at how new technology can help market lambs successfully, and examine how the internet and tourism are boosting direct lamb sales for one Welsh producer group.

By the time of our next Update, published on May 12, new season lamb sales will be underway. Lets hope the markets buoyancy continues, and gives the sheep industry a well-deserved profit boost.