26 November 1999

Scheme offers security and better prices

LANCS producers should receive better prices with more market security through the new Bowland initiative.

Jim Curwen, who runs 1500 Swaledale ewes at Marshaw Farm, Abbeystead, in the Trough of Bowland, is chairman of the farmers group. He believes a more secure market for beef and lamb will be the main advantage to those selling through the Bowland scheme.

"Hopefully, stock sold through the scheme will earn a price premium, but, initially, this concept is about establishing new markets for our stock with auction markets playing an important role."

Mr Curwen is keen for a Bowland brand name to be carried by all prime stock offered through the scheme.

"Traceability will be one of our strengths, but I believe it is important that we maintain the identity of our beef and lamb. We are also considering micro-chipping lambs to ensure traceability is guaranteed." Lancashire hill farmer Henry Bainbridge is also keen to forge closer links with the meat trade, and, ultimately, with consumers. It is a step that farmers must take to secure the best market for their stock, he says.

"It is vital that we take a lot more interest further down the line from production to consumption, but it is equally important that the Bowland project retains the involvement of local auction marts.

"If this meat marketing scheme relies totally on deadweight selling then farmers will be at risk from a monopoly buying situation. That is not what we want," says Mr Bainbridge, who would like to see the meat scheme underway as soon as possible in the New Year.

More than 90% of the Swaledale and Mule lambs produced at his Stake House Farm, Bleasdale, near Garstang, are sold through the live auction. He believes that a simple system of identification – even just a colour mark on the back of the neck – is sufficient for buyers in markets to instantly recognise stock as being produced within the Bowland marketing scheme. "A mark would tell buyers that lambs had been reared and managed to the high standards of welfare laid down by those involved in the scheme.

"Such a system would ensure that auction marts remained involved and could act as agents for buyers to source lambs and even arrange transport – all of which will guarantee traceability at every stage."

Tom Robinson, Catlow Farm, Slaidburn, Clitheroe, says that opportunities such as the meat marketing scheme must be grasped, but auction mart involvement is essential.

"If we only get an extra 2-3p/kg for our lambs it is worth having. It is clear that consumers are increasingly demanding traceability. This is one way that hill-bred lambs can retain an identity which will, hopefully, improve our marketing prospects," says Mr Robinson, who runs about 2800 Swaledale ewes on two units in the heart of the Trough of Bowland. &#42