9 August 2002

Quality of lamb up as farmers hit the mark

By Robert DaviesWales correspondent

LAMB producers are responding to market signals about the need to improve carcass quality, David Croston, MLCs head of sheep strategy, told a Sheep 2002 seminar.

He told delegates he was delighted to report that in 2001 about 66% of new season lambs hit the classification target of E, U and R for conformation and fat class 1, 2 or 3L. Over the last three years the percentage of all lambs in the target area had increased from less than 50% to 56.3%.

But he warned that too many lambs, particularly from upland areas, were still missing the target, leaving producers dependent on exports to southern Europe. "We must hope there will be some roll-over from efforts to market light lambs in the UK last year."

But Steve Turton, the award winning Exeter, Devon-based master butcher, felt that supermarket domination of the retail market would mean that there could only be a niche market for small hill lambs.

While he had demonstrated consumers would pay more for quality and traceability, he did not think many would pay the premiums organic producers needed. Mr Turton also warned that consumers were being confused by the plethora of quality marks being used and urged everyone involved in the meat industry to come up with one that everyone trusted.

Farmers First Group marketing director Mike Gooding said producers should not assume they knew what consumers wanted and were prepared to pay for. They should get out and ask.

"Lamb was perceived to have a high plate wastage, to be fatty and difficult to cook, and by its price to be a luxury item. Producers need to work with everyone else in the supply chain to ensure the right lamb products are marketed, so customers feel they are getting convenience and value for money," he said. &#42