What market price can UK prime lamb producers cope with? This is the question prominent farmers and industry stakeholders are debating amid Brexit trade negotiations.
In this week’s Trade Talk, auctioneer Chris Clapham of Stags considers the issue following meetings with his local member of parliament.
More than a year ago, Defra said leaving the EU would be a “major threat” to the UK sheep industry. Each year the UK exports 40% of sheep and lamb meat production, of which about 97% goes to Europe, according to AHDB figures.
Mr Clapham of South Molton Market, Tavistock Livestock Centre and Honiton Market writes: “Last Friday I was asked to attend a meeting with North Devon MP Peter Heaton-Jones, along with four other prominent sheep farmers, three of whom have positions in the AHDB, NFU and NSA.
“It was an MP’s surgery, so we only had 30 minutes to get our main concerns across to him in the hope he would take them to Westminster as Brexit talks continue.
“My main concern is the viability of producing prime lamb, as I am frequently told by my vendors that £70 is the break-even point to produce a prime lamb.
“In the worst-case scenario under Brexit, the introduction of a World Trade Organization tariff would add more than 50% to the cost of exporting our lamb, and New Zealand imports would still be able to access our market free of any tariff.
“This being the case, it is estimated that the price of our prime lambs would fall to the £50 a head mark, way below the cost of production.
“I was struck by the knowledge and clear thought of my four colleagues in the meeting, and amazed at the amount of meetings they are attending and speaking to at this important time.
“Our industry needs strong voices and we need to ensure that those people who are elected to represent us are not ‘shrinking violets’, but strong communicators putting the producers’ best interests first.”