8 November 1996

HIGH PRICES MEAN POLICY APPRAISAL

HIGH store prices are forcing one Welsh farming company to review whether they buy and finish store lambs or just take them on tack.

But whatever the decision, stores will be on-farm, for they fit in well across the 808ha (2000 acres) in Pembrokeshire farmed by Meurig and Mansel Raymond, of which 525ha (1300 acres) is arable.

The high proportion of arable land means forage rape and stubble turnips can be direct drilled after winter barley, particularly on off-lying land unsuitable for their 550 dairy cows. The lambs are also useful for grazing reseeds in spring, while shepherding provides work for two or three men when the arable rush is past.

The system has worked so well that the number bought has steadily increased, reaching 2500 head last year and achieving a margin of about £10 a lamb. But this years high prices are forcing a rethink on buying stores.

Instead, the Raymonds could more than recover the £120/ha (£50/acre) spent growing 48ha (120 acres) of green crop by renting the land to other farmers. Released grazings could be used to tack ewe lambs, a policy already used to clean up dairy cow pastures between December and March.

"We would have hill farmers queueing up to pay 60p a head a week for part of the winter and spring," Meurig Raymond says.

"However, we have already bought 1000 store lambs. The total we eventually decide to take will depend on what happens to prices, and market intelligence about prospects for prime lambs in the New Year."

The debate this year is whether it is worth tying up about £12,000 of extra capital to put through the same number of lambs as in 1995/96.

In a normal year the aim is to sell with a £15 a head mark-up on purchase price after spending around £5 a lamb on costs. With lambs costing £7/head more, and any end-price forecast subject to error, the brothers are keeping their options open.

"Most years, finishing store lambs is worthwhile, but there are many things that can go wrong. Mortality must be kept down to 1% or less, and the weather can have a devastating effect, as it did two winters ago. Also, predicting prime lamb prices is risky.

"We have a system that suits our cropping and labour profiles. The 52ha of green crops grown last year grazed 2200 lambs from Dec 1 to Mar 2. But it involves a big investment of money, time and effort, and we will do our sums very carefully before making a decision." &#42

High prices mean Pembrokeshire farmer Meurig Raymond is considering whether to buy more store lambs or to let land and take some on tack.