3 March 2000

Sister company for sheep ferry

By Philip Clarke

FARMERS Ferry, the producer-owned firm shipping live sheep to the continent, is launching a sister company, Farmers Fresh, to capture some of the trade in carcass meat.

Announcing the move at the SIA livestock show in Paris this week, chief executive, David Owen, said there were good opportunities in both markets.

"Our experience has proved the carcass and live markets serve separate customers. The move into supplying meat on the hook as well as animals on the hoof is a logical extension to our work," he said.

Figures from the Meat and Livestock Commission show that carcasses make up the bulk of the UK trade with the Continent.

Last year, some 103,000t was shipped as meat, compared with 20,000t as live equivalent. In 1993, the year before the ferries stopped carrying animals, some 123,000t went in carcass form, and 38,000t as live equivalent. "The two markets are not connected," said export director, Terry Lee.

Farmers Fresh will operate from the old Snelsons abattoir at Kenilworth, Warks, which closed last year and which is now being leased with an option to buy.

Mr Owen said the company was working with the Livestock Auctioneers Association to find ways of procuring up to 15,000 sheep a week. Killing will start in mid-April. Meat will be delivered to customers in continental Europe aboard the Farmers Ferry boat, the Cap dAfrique. "We already have a number of orders in place."

The plan is to set up a new plc holding company for both businesses in the summer, offering shares to sheep producers. Priority will be given to those 6500 who initially put money into the venture. It is intended these shareholders will become the companies principal suppliers.

Welfare organisations have welcomed the development, which they say is in keeping with their policy of encouraging slaughter as close to the place of rearing as possible.

But Farmers Ferry chairman, Terry Bayliss, insists welfare is not a problem in the live export trade. The company had not had one casualty out of 1.73m sheep moved on its boat during the past 18 months.

Farmers Ferry exports had earned the UK economy and sheep producers some £51m, he added.

Mr Bayliss also suggested that the operation of Farmers Ferry had led to a more balanced market in the UK, contributing to the recent improvement in prices which has seen live sheep top 100p/kg. &#42