11 August 1995

Mixed reaction to ewe premium rule change

By Philip Clarke

SHEEP industry reaction to MAFFs decision to move to a single retention period for ewe premium, probably ending in May, has been mixed.

One producer who thinks MAFF has made the right decision is John Wilson, who runs 500 ewes at The Elms, Tur Langton, Leics. "The sheep premium was intended to support the lamb producer. But too many people are now using it to claim a subsidy on ewes they never intend to take a lamb from."

He believes this is an abuse of the system which the move to a single period will help eliminate. Certainly it will be less viable for farmers to keep ewe lambs for slaughter if they now have to sell them on to the depressed hogget market in May, rather than the more buoyant trade in March.

This view is supported by Wesley Wyatt of Hill Acres Farm, Wiveliscombe, Somerset. "I believe the change will make us become sheep farmers again instead of manipulators of the common agricultural policy," he said. Currently he runs a flying flock, but now he anticipates rebuilding his breeding flock.

Extended opportunity

"Having a single period could also provide an extended opportunity for those who take on cheap cull ewes in the autumn, feed them a maintenance diet, and sell them on the firmer market before the end of the retention period," suggested Sally Doyle of the Meat and Livestock Commission.

Other farmers are hopeful that the change in the rules will persuade some people to get out of sheep altogether, so freeing up more quota for new entrants.

But there is little doubt that early lambers will be particularly hard hit. For example, Tony Good who keeps about 2000 ewes at Warborough Farm, Letcombe Regis, Oxon, traditionally lambs in early December for the Easter market. About 200 cull ewes normally go at the end of the first retention period on Mar 25.

"Having to keep them until the end of May will cost us at least 20p a ewe a week, and they will then be worth less when they are sold," he said. But on the positive side, by keeping non-breeding ewe lambs out of the trade in March, April and May, it should at least help returns from his main lamb crop.

Mixed farmer John Downes, who runs 320 North Country Mules at The Farm, Longnor, Shropshire, is also worried about the effect on the autumn breeding sales. "Normally we would be selling about 30 of our older breeding ewes and a similar number of culls. But the market could be weaker if flying flock buyers arent there."