Farmers have called on retailers to make plain their lamb-sourcing policies after several abattoirs were forced to cut their kill numbers due to New Zealand competition.
One West Country mixed farmer, who asked not to be named, still has lambs on his farm which were booked in two-and-a-half weeks ago.
When he asked his regular abattoir, St Merryn at Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, the farmer was told a supermarket had slashed its demand from 5,000 to 2,000 lambs a week. 2Sisters, which owns the site, has not yet responded to Farmers Weekly.
The NFU said it had similar stories from farmers supplying other large processors, linked to many retailers still stocking exclusively New Zealand lamb, even as the British new-season supply picks up.
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The West Country farmer said the seasonal slide in prices meant his lambs were now worth £10 a head less, or £15 if the extra time fattening meant they missed the West Country premium.
“The supermarkets say they support the British farmer, but as soon as the price comes into it, it all goes out the window,” the farmer said.
The battle for shelf space between British and New Zealand lamb is a regular feature of the summer.
In May, Sainsbury’s committed to stocking 100% British lamb by the beginning of July, “if not sooner”.
Also prices have now moved below last year’s levels, with the British liveweight SQQ average dropping 18p/kg in the week to 18 June, down to 180.5p/kg.
NFU chief livestock adviser John Royle said worries about New Zealand imports happened every year, but processors and retailers gave little or no comment.
He said farmers were now having to keep fit lambs on farm for longer, risking them going overweight and too fat.
“Processors, and retailers to some extent, look to recruit producers to plan supply of the right quality and quantity, and yet we still see retailers changing sourcing arrangements with minimal notice,” Mr Royle said.
“We want retailers to be much clearer about their sourcing policies and, in June, we would expect British retailers to be supporting British lamb.”
New Zealand production
New Zealand’s lamb production is expected to fall in the second half of the production season, which runs until September, according to AHDB Beef and Lamb. But they have been 6% higher on the year in the seven months to April, with bigger shipments to all main destinations.
New Zealand politicians and academics have expressed fears over the economic shock of Brexit.
Agricutural economist professor Alan Renwick also said New Zealand could be at the mercy of EU lobbyists if Britain left.
“The UK has been a strong force for moderating the excesses of the CAP, one of the banes of New Zealand agricultural life,” Mr Renwick told website Stuff.