RECONCILING VIEWS ON WAYS TO IMPROVE THE LAMB MARKET: With the frustration and helplessness felt by sheep farmers over low lamb prices boiling over into plans for a ‘no lamb week’ from tomorrow (Saturday 1st August), there has been much activity on social media this week. It is clear there are varying views that are at odds with each other and we risk damaging unity within the sheep farming community and throughout the supply chain. But even those advocating direct action appear not to want to disrupt the public – rather to send a message to gain support and sympathy. The question is that with low prices being caused by so many factors, would direct action work or add further chaos? Would it even damage the efforts of those trying to raise demand in an attempt to counteract the price problems? Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, has been in the company of a number of business involved in selling lamb this week. He reports: “I have spoken to many members this week on the subject of proposals for #nolambweek and the balance of views is that plans to withhold lamb would not work and would actually making the situation worse rather than better. I have visited two companies this week who are selling lamb and both are firmly of the view that we should have an ‘eat lamb week’ rather than a no lamb week. I understand that this proposed campaign is largely about converting the low farm gate lamb prices into low shelf prices in order to stimulate more sales, and of the companies I have been with this week, it was refreshing to see that one was working on fixed price contracts and is managing to keep both farm gate prices up as well as retail prices (on an admittedly small scale), and the other is keeping retail prices up but price promoting certain cuts to reflect the lower farm gate prices and in order to get volumes moving. Both companies are investing in new product development and new cutting methods and are seeing success in increasing sales. That surely is what we have to encourage all of our retailers to do, but giving those who could do more even more excuses to rely less on UK farmers, or to risk reducing the offering of lamb to consumers, will not further our cause. We have to recognise that there are many players selling lamb into a wide array of markets that are doing their best to grow sales and optimise value and I hope that messages going around on social media will make others realise just how serious the current market situation is and will result in them doing more to stimulate greater sales and returns to farmers. Holding lambs back from those that are doing their best will not help us, and while everyone should be pulling together in this time of need we really need everyone to be pulling together in both bad times and good”. There is apparently a text message going around in support of #nolambweek that claims to be from NSA. To clarify, this message has not come from NSA and we have not endorsed this action. NSA has provided comment to the press this week about the unacceptably low lamb price – click here to read more.
NSA WELCOMES POSSIBLE JOINT VENTURE TO PROMOTE SCOTTISH LAMB: NSA Scottish Region met this week with the Scottish Federation of Meat Traders Association (SFMTA) to explore the possibilities of a joint venture to promote Scotch lamb. Sybil MacPherson, NSA Scottish Region Chairman, says: “The key is finding ways to increase the consumption of lamb in Scotland and to convince the consumer to use lamb as a regular part of their diet.” Discussions centred on how to change the mind set of consumers, how to encourage them to try new dishes and recipes, including meat balls, lamb burgers, lamb grill sticks, kebabs, lamb sausages and using lamb as a main ingredient for curries. NSA Scottish Region felt it was vitally important to enter into discussions regarding promotion of lamb with SFMTA given that they represent some 420 craft butchers across Scotland who inform and communicate directly with the consumer.
NATURAL ENGLAND OPEN TO NSA MESSAGE: Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, met with Natural England Chief Executive James Cross CEO on Monday to discuss topics of mutual interest. These included the much talked about plans for rewilding and release of lynx, as well as agri-environment schemes and the next steps with field stocking rates relating to HLS agreements. Phil reports: “My train journeys from Chippenham to London often reveal some huge public event and on Monday it was joining the mass migration of muddy people from Womak (a festival near Malmesbury) back towards London. If someone could have gathered all the pickings from the train and from Paddington they would have had some useful topsoil, although it might not have met the biosecurity conditions that many farmers are coming to terms with. Seriously, meeting with James Cross was a very useful experience and I felt I met someone who is very empathetic to sheep farmers and accepting of the close relationship between our farming activity and the landscape and biodiversity that is within all of our interests. As you would expect, we talked a lot about re-wilding and lynx, but also much about ravens and sea eagles. We also talked about the contribution NSA could make to future agri-environment scheme planning, as well as that we could make to resolving what comes from the need to record stocking rates and dates relating to HLS agreements. Over very recent times Natural England has become a little more farmer friendly and the intention seems to be for this to continue – but as with all things, none of this is one-sided and the farming community has to work hard to get public recognition that it cares too.”
THREE-DAY SESSION FOR NSA NEXT GENERATION AMBASSADORS: The NSA Next Generation Ambassador group for 2015 came together this week for their third of five training sessions through the year. This session incorporated an extra day, due to generous supportfrom the British Wool Marketing Board. Joanne Briggs, NSA Communications Manager, reports: “Monday was a really intense day for the Ambassadors, with some thought-provoking and (hopefully) habit changing training from consultant Wyn Owen. We looked at how to adapt businesses over time by managing change, as well as negotiation and time management skills. Monday evening and all day Tuesday was with BWMB, who were very generous in hosting the Ambassadors and providing a tour of the grading depot and a nearby scouring plant. As the Board is based in Bradford, it was too good an opportunity to miss to go for a curry (lamb of course) on Tuesday night! Wednesday saw two exceptional farm visits – the morning with Roaming Roosters in Lancashire looking at branding and added value, and the afternoon with John Henderson and David Coates in Yorkshire to see their long-standing share farming agreement. There was plenty for the Ambassadors to see and many examples to consider for their own businesses.” NSA extends its thanks to the two hosts of the farm visits, who were very generous with their time, as well as Wyn Owen and BWMB, and Kingsway Vets at Skipton for providing their meeting room; also former NSA Chairman John Geldard for his inspirational after dinner talk on Monday. Read more about the NSA Next Generation Ambassadors here, and read their individual blogs here.
NSA SCOTTISH REGION REPORTS ON CAP PROGRESS: George Milne, NSA Scottish Region Development Officer, attended a CAP stakeholder meeting this week to receive an update on CAP progress. Scottish Government said they had received approximately 21,000 applications for area payments, 4% less than in 2014. Around 3.9m hectares has been claimed, compared to 4.2m in 2014. George says: “The applicant success rate is currently running at 66% for the claimant. Some 650 business currently below the minimum stoking density have claimed, although most appear to be genuinely active farmers in extensive production situations. All claims are required to provide evidence of activity to receive a payment.” George also highlights the issue of late clipping in many areas of the region, due to the wet weather: “In some cases, hill sheep farmers may struggle to have the correct count for ewe hogg claims by the voluntary coupled support closing date.”
MAKE MORE OF MUTTON LATEST: The latest Make More of Mutton newsletter was circulated by email this week, providing an update on activity by the NSA-led project. If you are not currently on the mailing list for this newsletter but have an interest in mutton, please email email@example.com.
RETAILERS URGED TO TAKE PART IN RED TRACTOR ON-PACK PROMOTION: Following the success of its BBQ promotion earlier in the year, Red Tractor Assurance (RTA) is urging retailers to be a part of its biggest ever on-pack promotional campaign for seven weeks in September and October (timed to coincide with Red Tractor Week on 14th-20th September).The new promotion, aimed at highlighting the standards behind the scheme, will be eligible to run across all Red Tractor pre-packed branded goods, including meat and poultry, dairy, cereals and fresh produce. Retailers will be encouraged to place stickers on packs, which will push shoppers online to see if they have won a prize, therefore getting more people to visit the Red Tractor website and learn about the scheme. Andy Thompson, RTA Marketing Manager, says: “The on-pack BBQ promotion, which generated more than 18,200 competition entries and some 10.8 million brand impressions, showed just how well this tactic works. However, the scale of products included in the autumn promotion means we expect to far exceed this total and bring the benefits of Red Tractor assured food to a greater audience than ever before.” A #trustthetractor social media campaign and TV appearance by Alex James, the Red Tractor brand ambassador, will also run around the campaign and Red Tractor Week.
FIRST MAJOR SHEEP FCE TRIAL LAUNCHED: Technology used in the cattle sector to measure how efficiently stock converts feed into flesh is to be used in the sheep industry, in what is claimed to be the first major trial of its type. The work will take place at the farm ofPeter Barber, Director of Sheep Improved Genetics (SIG), backed by other Exlana breeders, Asda and Dunbia. The aim is to identify the most efficient maternal breeding lines by monitoring the feed conversion efficiency (FCE) of a selection of 2015-born ram lambs. Tim White, SIG Director, says:“Identifying the most feed efficient lines in maternal breeds can give the potential for more ewes to be kept on the same ground, helping increase output and profitability per hectare. It will involve animals eating from feed bunkers with feed weighed as it is eaten and each animal’s intake recorded electronically every time it feeds. Lambs in the trial will be fed a grass pellet to mimic, as closely as possible, the diet of a grazing animal.” Tim and Peter (left and right) are pictured with Rachel Gilder of Dunbia.
SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTION GRANT SCHEME OPENS IN WALES: The Welsh Government has recently published information containing support for those wanting to make capital investment in improving performance and sustainability of their agricultural holdings. Click here for information.
STEWARDSHIP GUIDANCE FOR ENGLISH COMMONS RELEASED BY DEFRA: Additional information for countryside stewardship applications on common land and shared grazing is now available from Defra. It’s says the new information is to supplement that already in its countryside stewardship manual – click here to read it.
GET YOUR SILAGE ANALYSED NOW: Experts from the Scottish Rural College (SRUC, formerly SAC) are encouraging beef and sheep producers to get their silage analysed as soon as possible to give them maximum warning of potential problems. Basil Lowman is concerned about farmers using average figures, as these often come from farms that are not spread over the whole of the UK and are also predominantly dairy. This year’s average figures are better than in 2014, which has led Dr Lowman to urge caution particularly for those producers who experienced a cool spring and cut silage in June and July. He says getting silage analysed now (as soon as six weeks after harvest) will help people plan what bought-in feed might be needed for the winter. IN OTHER NEWS FROM SRUC, the college is working with the Scottish Organic Forum to write a new Organic Action Plan for Scotland and welcomes the views of producers. Click here to complete the survey.
UDDER HEALTH KEY TO MAKING FLOCK MANAGEMENT DECISIONS: A ewe mastitis research project conducted by the Warwick University on nearly 5,000 ewes over two breeding seasons has highlighted the importance of knowing a flock’s udder health status. Funded by AHDB Beef and Lamb, the study highlighted the continued need for udder conformation to be part of the culling decision. It also found that mastitis is a flock disease rather than just an individual's disease, so the next steps are to look at reducing transmission within a flock. Read more here.
BE AWARE OF SHEEP SCAB AS SALES SEASON APPROACHES: Sheep scab was a discussion topic at the recent QMS monitor farm meeting, where vet Neil Laing urged prompt action. He said: “If you see agitated sheep rubbing or nibbling at themselves, investigate. If you suspect scab, it’s important to pluck wool for analysis from the right location – the mites are on the leading edge of lesions. If you’re not confident, get the vet in, it’s too risky to get it wrong!” He said best practice was to keep all incoming sheep in isolation and treat them with a sheep scab product, not allowing them to mix with the main flock for at least seven days after treatment. He said: “Whether or not you buy in any sheep, it may be sensible to treat your own once a year, making sure you gather and treat every one. I realise this isn’t easy if sheep are on high hill or have access to woodland, but just one infected sheep can spread sheep scab through your own flock, and to your neighbour’s sheep too.” A valuable weapon in the battle against sheep scab has recently been developed by Moredun and is scheduled for launch in September. The diagnostic blood test will detect sheep scab antibodies well before any suspicious symptoms are displayed by the sheep.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE EARLY RAM SALE: For producers wanting to get their rams early and give them time to acclimatise to the farm and go through a quarantine period, the NSA Wales and Borders Early Ram Sale is this Monday (3rd August). Selling starts at 11.30am; download a catalogue here.
BREWERY TOUR AND FARM WALK FOR NSA SOUTH EAST REGION: On Thursday 20thAugust NSA South East Region will be visiting Shepherd Nearne Brewery, Kent, the oldest brewery in Britain. The tour will start at 11.30am followed by a pub lunch and a farm walk at Teynham Court Farm by kind permission of Stuart Wood. Bob Blanden, NSA South East Region Manager, says: “The brewery visit presents the opportunity to see the apple and pear orchards and cold stores; our visit will be just prior to harvest. Stuart, of Teynham Court Farm, runs a 900-ewe flock of mostly Romneys but also has 80 Suffolk ewes producing rams for himself and for sale. All are welcome, with no cost to attend.” Those interested should contact Bob on 016660 860308 or firstname.lastname@example.org
NSA SOUTH WEST REGION VISIT TO OLD PRISON FARM ON DARTMOOR: On Tuesday 25th August NSA South West Region will be holding a visit to the Old Prison Farm, Princetown, Devon, at 5pm by kind permission of Neil Cole. Old Prison Farm sits within the walls of the infamous Dartmouth prison and presents Dartmoor hill farming at its most challenging. Bryan Griffiths, NSA South West Region Chairman, says: “This will be a great opportunity to see the breeding programme Neil operates, being a leading member of the South West mule group since it was established in 2001. All are welcome and light refreshments will be served after what promises to be both an informative and interesting evening.” For more information contact Bryan on 01756 560393 or email@example.com.