By Robert Davies

DEMAND for small, pure-bred hill lambs is set to recover after two years in the doldrums.

Export prospects are better than any time since shipments peaked in 1995, says Nick Zalick, marketing director of Welsh Lamb and Beef Promotions.

All hill producers should benefit, bringing welcome respite for Welsh farmers who have seen carcass sales to southern Europe plunge to a quarter of their 1 million peak.

Many factors have combined to improve export demand, not least the development of farm assurance and increased awareness of the extensive production found in Wales.

“We have hosted a dozen groups of potential buyers from Spain, Italy, Portugal and Switzerland over the past year and they have been impressed by the natural way lambs are reared, and their traceability,” claims Mr Zalick.

“Already the contacts have produced earlier than usual orders from Italy, and signs that, what was a seasonal trade, could continue all year. I also expect to see at least a 25% increase in sales to Spain.”

Two Swiss supermarket groups will start selling Welsh lamb in July and there are high hopes for increased sales to Portugal.

Welsh farmers selling pure-bred hill lambs have also suffered a steep fall in domestic prices due to the lack of supermarket interest.

Some of these will benefit when WLBP, the Welsh Mountain Sheep Society and a major supermarket chain launch a new marketing initiative for 11kg-15kg pure-bred lamb carcasses.

From July, jointed half carcasses will be offered in over 90 stores in new Farm Assured Welsh Mountain Lamb cool boxes carrying a picture of verdant Welsh hills.

Boxes of mixed chops and steaks will carry the same design.

By involving the 400 members of the breed society, the organisers are hoping to guarantee continuity of supply.