By FWi staff

DESPITE strong demand for finished ewes from areas unaffected by foot-and-mouth and the absence of live imports from Northern Ireland, cull ewe values are set to plummet as the retention period ends on 15 May.

In foot-and-mouth-free areas such as East Anglia fleshy, Continental-bred ewes are commanding 35-40 a head as demand outstrips supply, but elsewhere values are under pressure.

Live shipments from Northern Ireland would traditionally be heading into big sheep markets such as Longtown, Carlisle, this week after the end of retention in the province on 28 April.

Disease precautions have put a temporary stop to the trade, but Irish meat plants are stepping up capacity and shipping carcasses instead.

David Ritchie of the Provinces Livestock and Meat Commission, says slaughter figures are below previous years, but are expected to catch up.

Already domestic ewe plants are feeling the pinch of Irish supplies available for about 21 a carcass, a third of the British equivalent.

Andrew Pickstock of West Midlands-based Janan Meats reckons the price differential is compounded by falling demand in the Halal sector.

Shop trade is down 40% as a result of foot-and-mouth images in the national media.

His 8000-ewes-a-week plant could access Irish ewes at 1.10/kg dw compared with British at 1.54/kg.

“We want to support our farmers, but to compete we will have to see domestic prices come down sharply,” he says.

But consultant Peter Crichton reckons there are still many ewes tied up in restricted areas and the loss of export markets means an overwhelming supply of lamb.

“We are heading for a surplus of sheepmeat in the summer and that is now a real concern,” he says.

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