28 June 2002

Use marketing tools to boost exports of lamb

By Robert Davies Wales correspondent

WELSH farmers should not be too concerned about losing their small lamb trade in southern Europe when the EU expands.

Adelardo Mancha, managing director of the Spanish meat company DCA85 SA, told producers at a conference in Powys that their short and medium-term prospects remained good.

Former Eastern Bloc nations were already exporting all the spare lambs their small industries could produce to Mediterranean countries.

"It will take time for them to expand their flocks to the point when there will be a big effect on demand for UK lamb," said Mr Mancha.

The supply/demand balance would change, especially as the Spanish continued to expand production and exports, but demand for British lamb should remain good. However, carcasses sent to Spain had to weigh no more than 13kg, have white fat and be competitively priced.

The Primestock Producers Cymru conference heard that consumers were very discerning and had 400 different words to describe the taste of lamb. While Welsh lambs branded Cordero de Pasto, or lambs from grass, had a good image in Spain, Mr Mancha was sceptical about the availability of a premium on British organic lamb.

David Croston, MLCs head of sheep strategy, said there were excellent export opportunities across Europe. But he warned that exporting was not a way of escaping from the power of the big supermarkets.

"Retailers are networking throughout Europe and the English system is becoming the model for the rest of the EU," said Mr Croston.

Producers should identify target markets and concentrate on meeting specifications. Taste panel tests indicated that UK consumers could not identify the claimed superior taste of hill lambs, making Mediterranean countries the real market for the light lambs produced on many Welsh farms.

Where standard lambs were produced it was essential to slaughter them with the correct fat cover. During the week ending June 15 the difference between the value of an R3L and an R4L lamb was 20p/kg, and rose to 42p/kg on an R4H.

But Mr Croston warned that farmers in other lamb producing countries were very willing to respond to marketplace changes and UK producers must do the same. The best way they could face up to competition was to know their production costs and use them to improve the efficiency of their sheep enterprises.

Every business tool and technological advance had to be used to stay ahead of competitors. &#42