PROMISING TRADE AT NSA RAM SALE – BUT MIXED MESSAGES FROM THAME: Despite initial predictions, trade at the NSA Wales and Border Early Ram Sale on Monday was strong. The clearance rate was 82.03%, the highest in the early sale’s 25-year history, and the top prices (1,300gns for a Charollais and 1,200gns for a Texel) exceeded those of 2014. There was also a general improvement to breed averages – see here for a full report. John Owens, NSA Wales and Border Ram Sales Chairman, said the strong trade reflected buyers’ confidence in the quality of rams in the 25th annual sale at the Royal Welsh Showground, Builth. He says: “It was nice to see good rams making good money, with the finished lamb trade as it is at the moment. Hopefully, it augurs well for the Main Sale in September.” Click here for more details on the Wales and Border Main Ram Sale; other NSA ram sales dates at the foot of this email. ALSO THIS WEEK was Thame Sheep Fair, one of the big indicators of the trade. More than 30,000 sheep were sold yesterday and today, and although NSA is reporting before the sale has finished and before a full analysis has been done, it appears that trade was back overall – but was also very difficult to read. Bob Blanden, NSA South East Region Manager, was representing NSA at the sale. He says: “Older ewers appear to have been kept up by the strong cull ewe market, fetching up to £100 a head, with some Mule and Mule cross shearling ewes not reaching their potential and selling for little more than £100, with £115-£125 being the norm. Stores have been in the region of £50-£55 for short-keep and closer to £45 for longer-keep lambs.”
£1.157m BEEF AND LAMB CAMPAIGN PLANNED: With the lamb price as low as it currently is, it was very positive this week to hear that AHDB Beef and Lamb has signed off a multi-million pound campaign promoting quality assured beef and lamb. However, NSA understands that the investment has been planned from some time and will be further delayed while final approval from the Government is secured. We are seeking clarification on why the current sign-off system allows such delays to happen and will share more information with members when we can. In the meantime, AHDB Beef and Lamb says the planned campaign, which is part of its long-term trade development strategy, will see £1.157 million spent this autumn on television, digital and print advertising. Stuart Roberts, AHDB Beef and Lamb Chairman, says: “Within the constraints with which we work, we continue to do all we can to support consumer demand through our trade and consumer marketing activity, and expect to be revealing detail of the specific plans shortly.” The levy board is also bringing forward some of its trade marketing work and planned activity on the EU lamb campaign. Details of the three-year €7.7m EU lamb campaign – Lamb.Tasty Easy Fun – have been shared in previous editions of the NSA Weekly Email Update, as we feel it is very positive that joint investment with Ireland and France is being match-funded by the EU. AHDB Beef and Lamb has said this week that farmers should support the campaign by promoting it on their own social media channels. NSA members with Twitter and/or Facebook accounts are encouraged to direct people towards www.tastyeasylamb.co.uk, especially from 24th August to 20th September when YouTube and print advertising will be appearing. LAMB PRICE ANALYSIS: AHDB Beef and Lamb has also joined QMS this week in providing analysis of the current lamb price situation. Mr Roberts says, on average, a 1p fall in the value of the euro means a drop of about £1 in the value of a lamb. Stuart Ashworth from QMS says that while auction market throughputs of SQQ lambs over the past couple of months have been consistently 15-18% lower than last year (i.e. lower supply, which should stimulate demand) the volatility seen is more complex. One contributor is that GB lamb slaughterings in June were reported to be 3.5% higher, reflecting a longer tail of hoggs than normal and a higher number of heavy lambs that fall outside the SQQ by being more than 45kg liveweight. The number of heavy lambs has diminished slightly in recent weeks, but they still account for more of the total lamb sales in auction markets than at this time last year, and the SQQ average price has risen. Mr Ashworth says: “Despite the many factors affecting market returns that are outside the control of producers, what the current market conditions bring sharply into focus is the importance of producers putting forward livestock to the market that best meet the needs of their buyers. This will help to minimise the impact of the other factors influencing the market.”ALSO IN SCOTLAND: Masterchef presenter Gregg Wallace (pictured with butcher Frank Yorke) spoke at the launch of a QMS Scotch Lamb campaign this week, which is set to target 3.7m consumers (90% of Scottish adults) and build on last year’s work, which boosted retail sales of lamb in Scotland by 11%.
NSA SCOTTISH REGION EXPLORES OPPORTUNITIES FOR LIGHTWEIGHT LAMBS: Representatives from NSA Scottish Region have met with the marketing team at Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) to look at potential new product development opportunities to make the most of lightweight lamb in the domestic market. Scotland has a strong tradition of producing 8-15kg deadweight lambs, which are usually exported, but NSA Scottish Region believes there is scope to create demand for this product domestically, giving shoppers an alternative purchase option on the shelves. George Milne, NSA Scottish Region Development Officer, says “I am confident this lamb would have a unique, tender, flavoursome taste derived from the grass-fed, natural production process behind it. Our Scottish hills offer a fantastic back drop to the consumer message and provide a great marketing opportunity to encourage sales. We have discussed with QMS the possibility of consumer trials to gauge response in terms of eating quality, tenderness and flavour, and I remain confident this is a positive way forward.” The potential to lift domestic consumption of lamb is a long-term aim of NSA Scottish Region, and is couple with more immediate activity concerning the low lamb price, including George appearing on regional news, STV, earlier this week.
SHEEP FOCUS FOR COUNTRYFILE: Countryfile last Sunday night had a sheep theme, which NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker suggests was positive. He says: “Credit where credit is due, and although many sheep farmers have been critical of BBC’s Countryfile over recent years, last Sunday’s programme was a good one. We have to remember that the audience is largely ‘armchair country folk’ for whom the detail is less important but the overall messages of ‘the countryside and our rural culture is rich and beautiful and was created by sheep farming’. Therefore, the profiling of lamb, mutton, wool, milk and cheese could only have raised interest. A strong focus was placed on the poor lamb prices with a critical eye placed on the big retailers and their willingness to sell New Zealand at the height of our season. There were some worrying comments from the public about looking for NZ lamb because it was greener/more natural, which just shows what a good job NZ has done on promotion (of their country as much as of the product) and how we need to do more to explain to the public how UK lamb is produced and just how delicious it can be.” The programme is still available on iPlayer – click here to find it.
RABI OFFERS HELP AND ADVICE DURING TESTING TIMES: The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) is concerned that the recent downturn in lamb prices could eventually take its toll on even the most resilient sheep farmers and is urging farmers who are really struggling to get in touch, rather than suffer in silence. Paul Burrows, RABI Chief Executive, says: “It is extremely concerning to see further pressure on the livestock sector with the impact of reduced prices for lambs. There will be a knock-on effect later in the year with the sales from the hill farmers, which will further impact on cash flow and future viability. Whilst RABI cannot help with business payments but we can support households with domestic payments.” RABI urges those severely impacted to contact their free, confidential helpline on 03003 037373.
DIFFICULT, BUT NECESSARY, FOCUS ON LONGER-TERM FUTURE: The Government’s pledge to produce a 25-year plan for food and farming took a further step forward this week with a farming stakeholder meeting that brought together around 70 people. Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, reports: “With the market in the state it is, it can be difficult to take these things too seriously. When you talk about an overarching aim to raise productivity there can no better incentives than for our markets to work, for prices to be reasonable and for there to be rewards. If these factors were in place I have no doubt that farmers would respond and increase productivity. Yet many of us have been calling for the need for longer term strategies and clearer direction for food and farming so when the opportunity arises it can’t be shunned, and you can’t complain about the content if you haven’t bothered to get involved.” The key words influencing Defra’s work are ‘competitiveness’, ‘resilience’, ‘innovation’ and ‘consumer focussed’, many of which are familiar in the agricultural arena, but when you relate them to ongoing Treasury austerity and recent announcements of 25-40% cutbacks within Defra, the intended mode of travel is clear, Phil suggests. He continues: “We have a particular challenge within the sheep industry in that our activity, far more than others, is directly related to land management, the landscape and the environment. While it is good news that work has started on a long term food and farming strategy it is less good news that similar work is being done on an environmental strategy and that these two are being done in isolation. Separating farming and the environment is a dangerous thing and, for sheep farming, it risks food production being seen as something that happens on a more factory scale while the environment is for people and access – and rewilding. I can’t put into words how much I disagree with this approach, particularly given that even last week’s Countryfile programme recognised that our wonderful landscape, biodiversity, infrastructure and rural culture was created largely by sheep farming and grazing. Maintaining it without this essential farming activity is impossible, artificial and unnecessary. Getting those who set our future pathways to understand or accept this is still the challenge we face.”
JOINT ACTION ON SHEEP TOPICS: This week ended with a routine catch up between NSA and NFU, with John Royle and Tom Fullick from the NFU Livestock Team and NSA Livestock Board Chairman Charles Sercombe visiting NSA HQ in Malvern today. The meeting with Phil Stocker and Joanne Briggs from NSA provided the opportunity to talk through topics where we can work together. Phil reports: “With the lamb market at the forefront of all of our minds we identified several immediate areas where we could work together, and also caught up on longer term activities such as carcases splitting and abattoir health information feedback. To work together as organisations like this makes so much sense and is of direct benefit to all of our members and the sheep industry generally.”
UK-WIDE FOCUS FOR KEY ISSUES: Tuesday was the quarterly catch-up meeting for NSA staff and the NSA development officers from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The meeting focused on work that is being done at a UK level on topics that affect all parts of the country. Topics included rewilding and pressure on sheep in upland areas, as well as chance to compare notes on reaction to the lamb price drop in the four nations. With NSA being unique in its role for sheep farmers in all parts of the UK, these meetings present an important opportunity to work on nationwide topics and judge different policy and rules affecting NSA members around the country.
LATEST ON NSA SHEEP WORRYING ACTIVITY: NSA has joined forces with the Sheep Veterinary Society (SVS) in a call for small animal vet practices to join the battle to raise awareness of responsible dog ownership. A poster has been created for vets to display in waiting rooms and surgeries, urging walkers to ‘stop and think’ before letting their dog off the lead. Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, explains: “By working with veterinary professionals to give them the information to advise dog owners of the risk from their dog to sheep, the NSA and SVS is hoping to encourage more responsible dog ownership across the UK. The farming community does not always find it easy to engage with dog walkers on the issue of sheep worrying, whereas companion animal vets have a regular audience with dog owners. Even if it’s only for a routine vaccination, owners need to visit their vet at some point, and will hopefully see the poster prominently displayed when they do so.” The poster has been produced in conjunction with Farmers Guardian’s ‘Take The Lead’ campaign and can be downloaded at www.nationalsheep.org.uk/dog-owners.
ADVICE FOR MEDICINE BOOKS ENTRIES: Following a discussion at a Farm Quality Assurance (FQAS) meeting in Northern Ireland this week, NSA Northern Ireland Region Development Officer Edward Adamson is warning farmers that the easy option for medicine books might have unintended consequences. He says: “I do it myself, when you write down ‘all lambs dosed’ or something similar. But if you leave 30 because, for example, you know they’re going to market, the paperwork actually looks like you’ve not observed the meat withdrawal period. It’s better to be more specific and write down field names, say, or batches of lambs. Entering the phrase ‘all stock’ creates potential for unnecessary confusion further down supply chains.”
SCOPS VIDEOS ONLINE: A number of short videos on worming sheep are now available online, produced by AHDB Beef and Lamb in conjunction with SCOPS, presented by sheep consultant Lesley Stubbings and vet Chris Lewis. The videos cover anthelmintic resistance, correct drenching and injection techniques, faecal egg counting, effective quarantine, dosing and more. View them at www.scops.org.uk or on the Beef and Lamb TV YouTube channel.
SURVEY: FARMERS VIEWS ON BIOSECURITY IN WALES: The Wales Animal Health and Welfare Framework Group and the Welsh Government have produced a short survey, to assess the level of understanding of biosecurity amongst farmers. NSA encourages farmers to complete the survey, which aim to find ways to raise awareness of good biosecurity practices. Click here for the survey link.
CONGRATULATIONS TO NI FORMER YOUNG SHEPHERD OF THE YEAR: Congratulations are in order for Dennis Taylor, who won the first ever Young of the Year competition in Northern Ireland eight years ago. This week he had reserve champion at the Suffolk Sheep Society Show and Sale in Stirling with a ram lamb, and sold it for 18,000gns. NSA saw his potential several years ago!
OPINIONS WANTED ON WELSH FARMING FUTURE: The Welsh Government is seeking opinions on its strategic framework for agriculture, which is a vision for a prosperous, resilient industry developed in conjunction with industry bodies. Farmer can respond individually to the consultation here, or can provide comments to NSA Cymru/Wales Region to feed into our response. Send your views to Helen Davies, NSA Cmyru/Wales Region Development Officer, on 01958 590535 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
FANTASTIC FARM TOUR ON OFFER AS PART OF NSA AGM: Wednesday this coming week (12th August) is the NSA AGM, hosted this year at the Rhug Estate, Corwen, Denbigshire. The day starts at 10am and will include the AGM, an NSA update and an exclusive tour of the estate, by kind permission of Lord Robert Newborough. Rhug spans more than 12,500 acres and includes an in-hand organic farm, let farms and cottages, forestry and commercial premises. The tour offers the chance to see how the award-winning business operates, including various produce and its farm shop and bistro.If you plan to attend, please help us with catering requirements by booking a place. Call NSA Head Office on 01684 892661 or email email@example.com.
NEW TERM AHEAD FOR ATP COURSES: A number of ATP courses are available this autumn, all subsidised for farmers and available online. Each course is 12-14 weeks and attracts CPD points and 20 HE credits. Applications close on Monday 17th August for courses on climate change, soil management, agro-ecosystem services, sustainable home-grown feed, ruminant health and welfare, and grassland systems. More information from Nicky Wallis, Bangor University Teaching Administrator, on 01248 388660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CORRECTION TO SHEEP FARMER: Sheep Farmer magazine was sent to all members at the beginning of this week – please let us know if you’re has not appeared for any reason. NSA HQ would like to apologise for an omission in the NSA Northern Region report. The NSA North Sheep Committee was thanked for its tireless work transporting stand equipment onto the field to prevent the ground getting churned up in the wet weather – they were only able to do this through the generous loan of Gators, Polaris and Kubota utility vehicles. We apologise for missing Gators from the report in the magazine.
SITUATION WANTED: Iain McGonigle (25) will be returning to Northern Ireland and is looking to secure a full time job from January 2016, preferably in NI but anywhere in the UK if the opportunity is right. He is currently employed in Australia as a farmhand on a station with 35,000 Merinos and 5,000 cattle. Iain describes himself as confident with all aspects of stock husbandry and movement and also has extensive experience of driving large machinery. He says that despite been a late comer to agriculture, he is more than willing to learn any new skills that are required of him. Iain says that during the two years he has spent abroad he has developed an appetite for the sheep industry, which he is keen continue on his return to the UK. He holds a full UK driving licence and can provide references. Contact Iain on email@example.com.