Covid-19 market disruption ‘serious concern’ for UK sheep sector

The National Sheep Association (NSA) has warned it is growing “more concerned by the day” about market prices and the knock-on effect Covid-19 will have on UK farming communities.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker warned prices were down around £40-£50/head.

He said: “We can only start from a position of absolute respect and commitment to the measures put in place to reduce the spread of the Covid -19 virus.

It is the number one priority that the health of society is protected at this time. However, the result is proving highly damaging for many businesses, and industries, and the sheep farming sector is now amongst these.

“The shutdown is having a really damaging impact on the sheep trade now. The trade collapsed at the start of this week with prices down by £1/kg liveweight – on a 45kg lamb that’s between £40 and £50/head less, on a value that was maybe just over the £100 mark.

“The main underlying reason is the closure of the restaurant and catering trade, both here and in the EU, and the heavy reliance we have on lamb being a ‘fine dining’ product.

We are hearing of export loads now being cancelled – and here at home, the supply chains that serve the catering trade and the domestic supermarket trade are quite different.

“We made Defra aware of this issue and the reasons behind it last Saturday morning, and now it’s become apparent that it is having the same, if not worse, impact on the sheep dairy trade with many with a perishable product having no market at all.”

However, Stocker explained that the “one saving grace” was that most UK sheep farmers producing lambs for meat are busy lambing at the moment and not selling lambs.

“For the sheep dairy sector, although relatively small in size, probably every farmer is affected due to them supplying into the chain every day,” he said.

While this has all been brought about by Covid -19 there couldn’t be a starker warning of the impact of sudden disruption to our export markets and it raises the spectre of Brexit and the dangers that lie at the end of this year’s transition period.

NSA is following the situation, talking to many in the industry, and will be exploring options with the Government as the situation develops.