5 December 1997

Sheep leaders demand action as premiums fall

SHEEP industry leaders have expressed grave disquiet at the state of the industry and have called for an urgent meeting with farm minister Jack Cunningham.

David Raine, chairman of the National Sheep Association, said 40% of Britains domestic lamb production was normally shipped overseas. But the high value of the pound was causing serious problems for exporters, resulting in a domestic market surpluses and low prices.

He said the strength of the pound was also reducing sheep annual premium payments, which have declined by around 20% – from £13.66 last year to an estimated £11.50 this year.

While accepting that the sheep sector was not alone in facing financial hardship, Mr Raine was dismayed at the way other countries had been able to exploit currency compensatory payments.

Sourced from abroad

"The sight of major UK retailers sourcing increased supplies of meat from Ireland, where producers are in receipt of such compensation, points to their improved competitive position," he said.

In a letter to Dr Cunningham, Mr Raine said the premium markets for hill lambs in southern Europe had also been hit, depressing upland sheep prices – already suffering from low hill livestock compensatory allowance payments. "I believe that after years of disappointment at the lack of a positive HLCA review, the rapidly deteriorating position of hill farmers warrants an immediate response."

Demands for the removal of specified risk material, due to take effect from Jan 1, were also presenting considerable challenges to producers and processors.

Ian Gardiner, NFU director of policy, said nearly every sector of the farming industry had been hit by the strength of sterling, and that pressure for compensation would be maintained.n