21 June 2002

Sights set high for premium selling scheme

Selling through a premium scheme is proving its

worth, but to be economic high quality lambs are

essential and production costs must be reduced where

possible, as Jeremy Hunt finds out

INCONSISTENT deadweight returns for lambs of the same weight and quality, along with high commission rates, have made a North Yorks farm manager look for a new market. But hes still selling deadweight.

"We could sell the same type of lambs, drawn at the same weight and the sheets would show them as three different grades and three different weights. Thats not acceptable," says David Findlay who manages the 312ha (750-acre) Birdridding Farm, Leyburn, for hisEcuador-based landlord, Colin Armstrong.

So, Mr Findlay began marketing through Yorkshire Lamb – an initiative which is earning him a £2-£4/head premium.

"Its the transparency of the scheme that appeals. Lambs are killed and sold locally through independent retail butchers shops. Im at last getting what is rightfully my share of my lambs value.

"In all these schemes the premium is not a fortune. But 10-20p/kg extra is worth having."

Since its launch two years ago there has been a strong consumer demand for Yorkshire Lamb. It was originally set-up by Skipton Auction Mart and is now a part of the Dales Fine Food Company.

"To discerning consumers, its the lambs locally produced image and quality thats sufficient to command the retail premium and that suits the butcher and producer."

Mr Findlay reckons hes learnt much from taking time to inspect lambs on the hook. "You get a butchers eye view. You see lambs differently, particularly in terms of finish and the way fat cover can appear to improve conformation.

"We also realised how important it is to handle lambs correctly. Grabbing wool when youre drawing or loading lambs will badly mark flesh, but you dont realise just how serious that can be until you see the carcass."

About 50 producers are selling lamb, as well as beef and pork, through Yorkshire Lamb. All suppliers are farm assured.

Several supermarkets have expressed an interest in the scheme and a new processing plant, alongside Skipton Auction Mart, will soon be producing a range of added-value products.

"The continued success of Yorkshire Lamb will depend on the ability of producers to produce what the butchers can sell. There has to be a commitment to provide lambs of consistent quality," says Mr Findlay.

"Any producer getting involved in this type of scheme must have realistic expectations and stick with it. But dont forget that butchers need to buy lambs just as much as you need to sell them. Its a chain where everyone, even the consumer, has something to gain."

Mr Findlay believes local retail butchers have been struggling just as much as producers. "Now were working together, so both feel theyre part of something. Everyones determined to get a fair return for a quality product."

David Findlay believes he has found a way to gain his rightfull share of lamb values, even though he sells deadweight.

&#8226 Can earn a premium.

&#8226 Working with butchers.

&#8226 Quality is important.