Farmers’ representatives have blamed supermarkets for recent dramatic falls in finished lamb values.
Deadweight prices for R3L hoggets have fallen more than 15p/kg in the last fortnight to 252p/kg – more than 50p/kg behind the same time last year.
Average liveweight prices for new season lambs fell about 16p/kg on the week in England and Wales, while Scottish values were back by 20p/kg.
Figures from the English Beef & Lamb Executive showed fresh and frozen lamb imports accounted for over half of retail sales in March, a rise of nearly 10% on the same time last year.
NFU livestock board chairman Thomas Binns said sheep producers needed confidence from retailers. “Those retailing New Zealand lamb during the first half of the year must be encouraged not to turn their backs on British lamb in favour of importing cheaper alternatives just to increase their margins.”
Peter Morris, chief executive of the National Sheep Association said: “The prices farmers are currently receiving for lambs are absolutely diabolical and no wonder when there is such a lack of loyalty from retailers.
But supermarkets denied they were giving imported lamb precedence over British sheepmeat. A spokeswoman for Tesco said:
“There has been no change in our policy. It’s always our intention to source lamb from the UK where we are able to secure the right quantity and quality for our customers.”
Morrisons said New Zealand lamb was available on its shelves between December and May, but accounted only six product lines compared with 30 for British lamb.
Auctioneers and processors said a seriously weakened export trade coupled with high numbers of old season lambs had undermined prices.
Simon Draper, auctioneer at Thame livestock market in Oxfordshire, said: “Hogget weights have been rising and killing out percentages have fallen.”
Hoggets from 35-42kg had slipped in recent weeks to just over £1/kg. Heavier hoggets were realising about 90p/kg, he added.
Richard Phelps, managing director of processor Southern Counties Fresh Foods, said export trade to France, Britain’s biggest customer, has dropped dramatically.
“More imported New Zealand lamb is going into key export markets like France and displacing British sheepmeat. We’re also facing huge competition from the Republic of Ireland into the Continental markets.
“New season lambs are coming forward at over 20kg, usually they’re 16-18kg. Continental importers are looking at alternative sources – we’re all feeling this a little bit.”