The only talk in the sheep world at the moment is the price of spring lambs and hoggets.
Record prices have become the norm and everyone is putting forward a theory on what is causing it. For the record, I do not have a theory beyond the age-old supply and demand dynamics. What we can be sure of though is what has not increased the farmgate price.
A number of initiatives and schemes put forward by processors and the Department of Agriculture were imposed on farmers and we were told each was necessary to maintain and support the price we received. None of these, however, have made any real impact apart from adding to the workload and costs of the farmer.
Let’s start with electronic tags. The Minister for Agriculture at the time, Michael Creed, said these expensive tags were needed to show new Asian markets that Irish farmers were trustworthy and we could trace lambs from farm to processor. We are still waiting on worthwhile access to these new markets, despite the fancy ear-rings dangling from lambs’ ears for nearly two years now.
The quality assurance (QA) scheme from Bord Bia is similar. We are told processors give an extra 10c/kg for lambs coming from QA farms. And you can see this added in on the document you get back with the cheque a few days after sending off lambs. But what you are not sure of is the base price and how it might have dropped by 10c for no apparent reason a few days earlier. But let’s give the processors the benefit of the doubt here and assume the stress of QA audits means an extra €2 per lamb. This is nothing compared to the recent price rises of €50 and more per lamb. As with EID, extra work for the farmer with no real return.
A third aspect that was supposedly saving us sheep farmers from ruin was the clipping charge again imposed by “the industry”.
A few dags on a lamb’s backside or a spatter of mud on his belly and we were told the end was nigh for sheep farmers. We had to be charged for such poor management of the animal to put manners on us. But I don’t think there has been much talk of clipping charges in recent months, and instead of the price dropping or markets closing to us as a result, the price has gone the other way.
So, there we have it. Three measures shoved on to sheep farmers that we are told are absolutely necessary to keep our price from dropping. And not one of them has had the slightest impact on the current market price.
We would do well to remember this the next time a minister or anyone else from the industry tries to tell us their latest initiative is for our good, rather than theirs.