By Simon Wragg

PRODUCERS are paying a high price for hanging on to cull ewes last autumn.

Ewes are currently worth an average of 13 a head, according to MLC figures, which means values have halved over the last year.

In some markets cull ewes are trading for as little as 2, particularly for the smaller hill-type ewes with poor frames and finish. And thats likely to continue, warns the trade.

The price collapse is attributed to higher number of ewes forwarded, the effect of specific risk material costs in abattoirs and the collapse of the skin market.

In terms of numbers forwarded, this years entry is up 10% on the same period last year, the MLC reports. And with SRM costs adding up to 2/carcass on processing charges, pressure on prices has continued.

Some of this was offset by the trade in skins, of which the UK is an important supplier to the world market.

However, the loss of end markets for fashion goods – particularly Russia – and backlog of supplies in processing countries such as Turkey and Poland, skin values have plummeted from 8 last summer to 80p or below, says Paul Pearson of the British Leather Confederation.

Some smaller outlets may be forced to pay landfill charges for the disposal of skins if volumes are insufficient to warrant a fell-monger picking up supplies.

The combination of those factors has hit hill areas hardest. St Asaph-based auctioneer Alwyn Jones says cull prices for the recent entry of 1500 ewes averaged 8.12 a head.

“Where weve seen an entry of Welsh ewes it been down to 4.89 each as the trade reckon its difficult to split the carcass (for SRM rules),” he adds.

Prospects are also looking bleak in Scotland. Stirling-based auctioneer Willie Patterson predicts values will slip away as numbers forwarded rise as clipping is complete. Plain Blackface ewes are currently 8 apiece, but last years value of 2 each could be realised.

“Even better Mules which are currently making 18-22 are likely to come back to last autumns 10 a head if the way fat ewe and lambs are moving is anything to go by,” adds Mr Patterson.

With income from culls significantly down, prospects for the breeding ewe sale season look bleak. “The back-end sales will be seriously hit,” predicts Mr Jones.