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

Ashbourne News Telegraph - - FARMING -

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.

by Roy Rus­sell.

Sheep in Tiss­ing­ton,

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