23 April 1999

Ferry expansion sought

FARMERS Ferry wants more producers to sign up to share the cost of its live export operation.

The company suggests the delivery of 700,000 sheep into overseas markets has boosted prices. But the shipments have been financed largely by the 6000 farmers who have paid their membership fees, it claims.

"Are you comfortable with taking the benefits this service has brought the industry without contributing to its development?" Farmers Ferrys David Owen asks producers in a recently released statement.

However, establishing the effect of live exports on prices is hard to calculate, says Meat and Livestock Commission economist Lesley Green. "What we can say is exports helped alleviate a very difficult position last autumn when high numbers of lambs were coming forward.

John Thorley, secretary of the National Sheep Association, accepts the value of the export option, but said the association could not encourage producers to contribute the £100 for the first 100 ewes in a flock and £20 per 100 ewes thereafter being asked by the company.

"Its really up to Farmers Ferry to make the case and producers conscience to decide whether to contribute. However, in my book, having that export route is invaluable," he says.

The farmer-led company also wants dairy producers to come on board, predicting that the resumption of live calf exports will boost domestic prices.

Calf values in EU mainland are between £50-100 higher than domestic values, it says.

Although that might happen, the MLCs Duncan Sinclair says there is no immediate urgency since live deliveries are unlikely to resume for some time.

A MAFF spokesman confirms this, saying the government is "less than keen" on live exports.