Farmer Focus: Fairer red meat levy system needed

Last month I chaired an open meeting about the fall in lamb prices at Welshpool Livestock Market with two of the major meat processors in Wales. The meeting highlighted the need for a fairer red meat levy distribution system.

The ability to market Welsh lamb in order to benefit farmers is severely reduced because of the unfair way in which a large proportion of Welsh farmers’ levy payments go over the border to England.

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Under the current system levies collected from farmers and processors in countries in which animals are slaughtered are paid to those countries’ meat promotion bodies – HCC in Wales, Quality Meat Scotland in Scotland and AHDB Beef and Lamb and AHDB Pork in England.

This means Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales’ levy funding does not come close to reflecting the number of animals born and raised in Wales.

There are a host of issues that undermine lamb prices which we cannot influence, such as the sterling-euro exchange rate, but more work is needed in those areas where changes are possible, including product development and addressing the imbalance in terms of demand for different cuts.

I find myself also quite frustrated with the slow progress being made in terms of getting Welsh produce into the US market, and would like to see a more proactive approach.

I also want to see changes to the regulations on carcass splitting, which is scientifically unjustified and severely undermines the prices we receive – regulations that were inappropriately and hastily brought in because of the BSE saga more than 20 years ago.

When checking a group of our young cattle we noticed they were terribly wheezy, coughing and short of breath. A speedy phone call to our vets confirmed they had lungworm. Lungworm is more prevalent in young cattle that have not yet built up immunity through exposure.

Unlike gutworms, the lungworm adults develop and lay eggs in the cattle’s lungs. The larvae are hatched, coughed up, swallowed and then passed in faeces. If not treated with a drench quickly, lungworm can be fatal. We were lucky and managed to get the cattle housed and treated that night and thankfully suffered no losses. It is possible to vaccinate against lungworm and it is something we will have to consider before turnout next year.

Mark and Helen Williams run 1,000 ewes and 40 suckler cows across 283ha of part owned and rented land.