7 November 1997

Lamb is hit by French road chaos

By Tim Relf

FEARS of traffic chaos in France grew early this week, pushing lamb prices down further.

Mondays average price in England and Wales was less than 97.8p/kg, down more than 4p on the week.

Shrewsbury auctioneer Peter Willcock said the French lorry drivers blockade could drive down prices in the UK. "The home market can only absorb so much. With this a busy time of year, there couldnt be a worse time from the exporters point of view," he added.

More lambs would be held back in the face of the problems, he said. "Exactly how many will depend on farmers nerve and keep situation."

But postponed marketings will add further to the stockpile already on-farm. "Lambs might get over-fat."

Postponed marketings were already evident on Monday, with 11% fewer sold through Meat and Livestock Commission markets than seven days earlier.

Risk factor

Alan Horine of Edward Hamer International says the "risk factor" prompted some meat plants to cut throughput this week.

No one, he says, wanted to be stuck in traffic jams, watching carcass quality deteriorate.

"A lot of people got caught last year," says Mr Horine. He, too, fears the impact of any postponement of marketings on stock finish, which has already been less than ideal in some cases, following low prices earlier in the season and the plentiful grass supplies.

Some farmers who would usually be selling 16.5kg dw lambs, grading 2L or 3L, might this year have been selling 18kg animals at 3H or 4L conformation, he says.

Remi Fourrier, with the MLC in Paris, agrees over-fatness has been a problem. Exporters have had their backs to the wall in the face of the strong £.

So far in 1997, 56,807t of sheepmeat carcasses had been exported to France, which was 15% below the corresponding period last year.

Chairman of the NFU livestock and wool committee David Williams also expressed his concern at the situation. "Its not just a problem with sheepmeat, either – this affects all perishable products."