Nervous times for British

5 November 1999

Nervous times for British

lamb trade

By Simon Wragg

LAMB producers have so far avoided any serious dip in prices during an uncertain weeks trading with the threat of retaliation from across the channel over the French sewage-fed stock scandal.

The UK is the main lamb supplier to France, shipping 70,000t of sheepmeat annually worth £136m against French imports of just 1000t. The majority of UK exports are chilled lamb carcasses.

Although price is a big lever, exporters know the French can be fiercely patriotic. And despite a gap of almost £1/kg in EU sheep reference prices at the end of September between the UK and France, some fear trade could be hit.

The beef issue has affected demand in the sheep sector, suggests a spokesman for lamb exporter Anglo Beef Producers. Some lorries travelling through Continental ports have been stopped but without major incident.

Pin-pointing how business has been affected is difficult as volumes have naturally declined with this weeks bank holiday in France curbing demand.

Auctions also report some hesitation. According to Skipton-based auctioneer Jeremy Eaton of Craven Cattle Marts some vendors have been cautious.

"There has been uncertainty over Continental spec lamb. Some were held back, but that helped increase (domestic) prices and we can expect to see a few more out as a result."

What many UK-based exporters dont want is producers exacerbating the situation with further retaliatory action. That should be left to the politicians, they believe.

"Theres no way the UK price could be sustained if export trade diminishes," warns John Bailey of Lloyd Maunder.

On the live export front, Farmers Ferry is continuing its regular sailings with no noticeable drop in numbers, reports a spokesman for the company. "Business as usual," he says.

Lamb prices are holding firm at about 66p/kg liveweight. The standard quality quotation is staying at 68p/kg liveweight for the past few weeks, 10p/kg lower than last year.

Major lamb markets near ports and major processing plants report a resumption of numbers earlier this week with no undue change in lamb prices expected. &#42

Chaos subsides but still questions

CHAOS which erupted in markets following the end of the calf processing aid scheme has subsided, but officials are unable to suggest where the surplus of predominately black and white calves have gone.

A survey conducted by the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers at this years Dairy Event, Stoneleigh suggested that almost 60% of producers were intending to dispose of valueless calves as cheaply as possible.

The responses from 209 producers representing 26,000 cows suggested that 11% were undecided over the fate of calves, 13% intended to market them to beef finishers and 14% were rearing their own.

With about 500,000 pure-bred male calves being born annually, the results suggest up to 300,000 calves could face disposal on-farm, raising concern on both welfare and environmental grounds.

The situation could be prolonged as other RABDF results suggest those farmers looking to use a beef sire in future match those turning back to dairy bulls.

While the National Farmers Union wanted a disposal scheme, livestock adviser Carol Lloyd suggest the market has gone some way to find outlets for calves. As a result some pressure from members for a disposal scheme had subsided.

The British Cattle Movement Service is preparing a study of passport applications for the NFU to identify numbers being registered and their destination, added Ms Lloyd. BCMS staff cannot say when the report will be released.

"That (the report) would be particularly useful as it may answer many of the unknown facts," added Philip Gilbert, chief executive of the RABDF.

Some sources suggest up to 50% of calves have been yarded for rearing. That would account for a great proportion not passing through markets or contract schemes.

Other calf handlers have reported an increase in numbers since the end of the CPAS.

Chris Ashworth of the Licensed Animal Slaughterers and Salvage Association said members were busier, but actual numbers were hard to pinpoint. Members have been canvassed this week to assess the volume being handled. &#42

Prime cattle numbers drop

PRIME cattle numbers continue to fall year-on-year providing some hope that limited supplies may help firm cattle prices soon.

Latest EU forecasts show a fall of 19% in EU beef output this year to 7.6m tonnes. That puts production at its lowest point for several years, says the Irish Food Board.

At home, latest slaughter statistics from MAFF suggest both steer and heifers are down by 1000 head a week compared with last year to 22,000 and 18,000 head respectively.

0The MLC suggests this partly accounts for the relative stability of beef prices at around 88p/kg, which bucks the marked seasonal decline of previous years.

Steer numbers are still in falling due largely to the effects of the calf processing aid scheme.

Over 1000 prime cattle are being entered on the Over 30 Months Scheme each week; many are heifers unsuitable for breeding. &#42

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