Sheep farmers face sternest test for survival – to change right now

For sheep farming to have a profitable future it needs policymakers to gain a clear understanding of the industry and to make policy decisions which make sense and help the industry.

Speaking in the Farmers Weekly NSA seminar, The UK Sheep Industry, Challenges and Opportunities, Dumfries-based Marcus Maxwell told visitors the industry needed to change – and it needed to do it now.

“We’ve been talking of change for the last 20 years, but unless we actually do it there will be little profit for anyone.

Farmers have to decide what they’re farming for. Is it for a subsidy or for a profit?

“Farmers who aren’t making the most out of what they’re doing should get out of the industry, no one deserves a second chance anymore and once 2012 comes and single farm payment is removed it will be too late to start making changes.”

Meanwhile, Ledbury-based shepherd Nick Davies said every farmer had to challenge their system and calculate their true costs of production.

“We need to know what it’s costing to produce 1kg of lamb and find ways of cutting those costs where we can.”

In a challenge to breeding stock producers Mr Davies said both ram and ewe breeders needed to question whether the sheep they were producing were what commercial farmers wanted.

“The North Country Mule has been the backbone of the lowland sheep industry for years.

But it could be superseded by other female lines unless breeders listen to the messages coming from their customers.”

Challenged as to how farmers could gain more for their lambs, Mr Maxwell said it was a matter of ensuring lambs met market needs and that meant developing relationships throughout the supply chain.

Meanwhile, Mr Davies suggested the only real answer was a lift in prices, but as that was unlikely, it would be down to farmers to become more efficient wherever possible.