Failure to secure Brexit may see price of sheep collapse
Derbyshire NFU county advisor ANDREW CRITCHLOW explains why the summer drought is still causing problems
IT was in August that I last mentioned the drought and, as predicted then, its effects are still being felt. Store lamb and cattle prices have been depressed this autumn.
Store is the term used to describe animals that require more “finish” – needing to put on more meat before they are sold to the abattoirs to be skilfully cut into joints.
Most animals from the hilly parts of the Peak District are sold ‘store’ – mostly through Bakewell and Leek markets – to farmers from surrounding counties and beyond.
For store sheep, buyers will come from more fertile areas that have surplus grass or arable crops that this year’s lambs can eat through the winter.
Store cattle being sold in the autumn will generally be housed during the winter as most are not suited to being outside, there is not enough grass for them and the ground only gets badly trodden up, or ‘poached.’
Because many farms around the country have not made the usual quantity of hay or silage they are clearly not going to buy in any more mouths to feed than they have food for.
This has depressed demand for store animals and so the price. This, in turn, has pushed down the price for breeding sheep – these are the replacement ewes and ewe lambs (female sheep), that many farmers buy each year to replace the old ewes that are sold after four or five crops of lambs. Again, with lower forage stocks, farmers are buying fewer or none.
Sorry but I will have to mention the ‘B’ word – Brexit – as no article on sheep prices can avoid mention of exports.
More than 40% of sheep meat is exported, not live I hasten to add, but slaughtered in Britain and sent as whole carcases or as cuts. The biggest recipient is France, which takes 55%
of our exports. If a watertight Brexit deal is not secured, the French will soon seize any opportunity to block imports and the UK price would collapse.
With no-deal still a possibility, sheep buyers are being cautious – not knowing what demand there will be after the end of March next year.
The so-far dry autumn has enabled many cattle to stay out and late cuts of silage to be made, which is good news, but no doubt the rain will come and then the cattle will have to come indoors.
If the rains do not come sometime, then we could be in trouble next summer. Severn Trent Water levels in their reservoirs, when averaged out across their region, have, according their website, picked up from a low in midseptember of 54% to 66% by mid-october.
But they have been static for the past two weeks so they are a long way from full.
Farmers are remarkably resolute and, despite what politics and the weather is throwing at them, it is a case of getting on with the day-to-day work and continuing to be part of the biggest manufacturing sector in the UK, when combined with food and drink.
The whole sector employs nearly £4 million and is worth more than £112 billion.
Sheep in Tissington,