Marks and Spencer price rise to help struggling sheep farmers

Retailer Marks and Spencer has guaranteed a minimum price to its lamb suppliers in a bid to help farmers struggling in the wake of Foot and Mouth and Bluetongue (blue tongue) disease.

Farmers’ representatives have welcomed the announcement, which sees the retailer pay a minimum price of 240p/kg/dw for lamb supplied by its group of about 100 farmers.

As part of Marks and Spencer’s Lamb Pledge, farmers can also earn an extra 35p/kg/dw through meeting welfare and environmental targets.

Security

The scheme, trialled among 40 Welsh hill farmers in June, follows last week’s move by Waitrose to set a base price of 230p/kg for the rest of the season.

Rob Cumine, Marks and Spencer agriculture manager, said the minimum price would offer farmers some security.

Peter King, NFU chief livestock advisor, said M&S was acting responsibly and sending a message of confidence to farmers.

Extra demand

“It’s critical we see more retailers doing the same, and we are in ongoing discussions to try to see that happen.”

Other retailers have acknowledged the harsh difficulties facing sheep farmers following foot-and-mouth and Bluetongue outbreaks, and the loss of export markets.

Asda’s Pearce Hughes said there were no plans to introduce a fixed price for sheep farmers, but added that Asda’s special hill lamb packs, introduced in August, were creating extra demand for lamb.

Confidence low

Sainsburys said it had plans to launch new product lines which it hoped would create demand of 10,000 light lambs a week.

However, confidence within the sheep industry was at an all time low, said traders.

Chris Dodds of the Livestock Auctioneers Association said the trade for breeding sheep had been hit hard.

‘Abominable’

“Foot and Mouth and blue tongue, coupled with the fact the prime lamb market is below the cost of production, means people don’t want to invest.”

Auctioneer Brian Pile, at Thrapston market in Northants, said the situation was “abominable”.

“Heavy lambs are worth less than store lambs bought this time last year.”

Export concerns

Processors, too, were struggling with remaining movement restrictions. John Dracup of St Merryn Foods said the processor had maintained a deadweight price of 200/kg throughout the week.

“The obvious concern is exports, and it’s difficult to operate given the restrictions be we are maintaining numbers and paying a reasonable price,” he said.

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