18 September 1998

Price of gimmer and store lambs at rock bottom

By FW reporters

SHEEP farmers are following their beef and pig counterparts into the trough of rock-bottom prices.

The latest collapse is in the value of gimmer and store lambs – the mainstay of many farmers in the hills and uplands.

As sale season kicked off in the north-west last week, Mule gimmer lambs were averaging £42-£43 apiece, down £30 on 12 months ago.

For Cumbria farmer Colin Dent, who sold 300 at Kirkby Stephen last Friday, this meant receipts of about £10,000 less than at 1997 prices. Last season was a one-off, he says. "But now I am glad to be able to sell them well above the fat price."

Chairman of the NFUs Welsh Council, Hugh Richards, says "the industrys lifeblood is haemorrhaging". His comments come after Welsh Mule yearling ewes averaged £60 at Welshpool last week, down 37% on last year. Not long before, Mountain ewes at a Llanwrst auction made £14, with some pens of small sorts not attracting a single bid.

"Farm accounts will look pretty sad this year," says Meat and Livestock Commission economist Duncan Sinclair.

But he says hill and upland farmers can do nothing about it. "Many dont have the capacity to keep sheep on longer – they have to move them off."

Depressed finished lamb prices have contributed to the downturn in the gimmer and store trade, says Mr Sinclair. Prime lambs averaged 79p/kg lw on Monday – down 29% on a year earlier – reflecting the "glut" of pigmeat on the market and the disrupted skin trade.

As Ralph Green, of Scottish abattoir McIntosh Donald, says: "Russian demand for sheep skins has disappeared. A month ago, good quality skins were worth £10. Now they fetch £1."

Scottish NFU vice-president Jim Walker says of the store trade: "Prices everywhere are down 50% or more on the year – and the worst is yet to come when the small hill lambs come out of Argyll and the Western Highlands."

On Monday at Stirling, Scotch Mule ewes and gimmers averaged £34 and £58. "After last years high prices for both store and breeding stock, we did expect a fall this season – but nothing like the crash that has happened," says auctioneer Richard Hague.

John Thorley, of the National Sheep Association, calls the situation an "absolute disaster". And the likely higher ewe premium will only go a little way to compensate.

"This is an ideal year to restock a breeding flock," says Mr Thorley. "But that is no consolation for people who are sellers."

Auctioneer Kevin Kendal at Kendal, Cumbria, says: "Very few farmers can be in profit." Neither are the ancillary trades escaping. "Our commission was almost halved," says Mr Kendal after last weeks big sale. &#42