A Mountnugent sheep farmer has stressed the unfairness of weight restrictions enforced by factories, insisting that producers are effectively giving away lamb meat for nothing.
Factories enforce a weight restriction whereby they will only pay for up to 20kg of a spring lamb.
Over the bleating of lambs being let out into his Kilnacrott fields, Bernard Lynch detailed the apparent unfairness of the rule to the Celt.
“The factories are cutting off at 20kg at the minute, it’s ridiculous,” said the Cavan IFA sheep chairman. “For a perfect spring lamb they should be paying for up to 21kg at least.”
The IFA has been lobbying for weights up to 21kg for April/May and increasing from June 1, but Mr Lynch concedes, “so far it hasn’t been successful”.
From farmers’ point of view, factories should ideally revert to paying for the entire weight.
“I’m in sheep farming for 30, 40 years, and up until a three or four years ago, at this time of the year you were paid for every kilogramme you had - if they were 25kg, 23kg or 20kg, you got paid for every kilogramme.
“At the beginning of the season they will only pay you for 20kg, as the season goes on they will up it to 21kg and then they will up it to 22kg maybe in August, and then they will up it to 23kg in maybe November.”
The Celt contacted IBEC for a response, but they had not replied at the time of going to press.
The Celt suggested to Bernard that the factories implement the rule to encourage farmers to bring in lighter, younger lamb for quality reasons.
“That’s what their aim is, but it’s a way of getting cheap lamb. They are not selling 25kg of lamb at 20kg.
“You’re giving them lamb for nothing.”
Hoggets are making €5.80/kg and top prices of €5.90/kg.
Bernard said spring lamb numbers remain very low. Butchers are paying up to €7.00/kg and factory prices ranging from €6.60 to €6.80/kg.
“It’s below last year’s price,” Bernard notes. “There’s a very small number of spring lambs coming out and that would be due to the weather, with a bad spring, and the thrive wouldn’t be great. Sheep don’t like wet weather, they don’t mind the cold as much.”
The supply of spring lamb is expected to increase in late April.
“We would be hoping that it will not affect the trade.”
Bernard accepts that the sheep sector is faring better than their dairy, beef and pork counterparts and is optimistic for the future. However he is concerned by reports that the Chinese economic slowdown could see the EU market flooded by low cost New Zealand sheep.
“I believe a lot of New Zealand lamb is coming back into Europe because China is not buying it the way they were for the last few years. For the last three seasons a lot of New Zealand lamb was going to China. I believe it is back on the European shelves again.”