NFUW warns of ‘perfect storm’ for Welsh sheep industry

The deputy minister for agriculture Alun Davies has been warned of a “perfect storm” threatening the future of the Welsh sheep industry.

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Wales president Ed Bailey told the deputy minister in a meeting on Monday that a “convergence of factors” including weather, increased input costs, the eurozone crisis and imported lamb were of concern.

Davies also explained that the Welsh processing sector, following Vion’s decision to remove interest from the UK, was going to suffer. The added pressure of Asda pulling out of Welsh Country Foods, would hinder the industry further, adding to the creation of a “perfect storm”.

To further illustrate the hardship the Welsh sheep industry is facing, Davies was shown figures and estimates that highlighted the fact that hill and upland livestock farmers were to see incomes slashed by half if nothing changed.

Bailey explained that the estimates showed hill sheep farmers’ incomes to be down by more than half (56%) compared to last year. He said; “Hill cattle and sheep and upland cattle and sheep figures, despite the strong beef market, are little better with profit after rent and finance down 53% and 46% respectively.

“Over the last couple of years we have seen a welcome increase in our breeding flock, reversing the longer-term trend that had seen a loss of over one million breeding ewes from Wales between 2001 and 2009. Despite the fact that I remain optimistic for the long-term prospects of the Welsh sheep industry, I am, concerned that recent events will make a number of producers consider their future plans for their sheep enterprises.”

Bailey added that he fully respected the fact that market prices were beyond the control of the Welsh Government, but he did feel the government’s powers could help the sector through the winter “by making use of resource via the EU-approved Wales Rural Development Plan (RDP)”.

Bailey said he hoped that, as part of the next Wales RDP, the Welsh Government would think about how “socio-economic” support could be delivered to rural upland communities.

“However, it is looking increasingly likely that the next RDP will not be implemented before 2015, leaving a vacuum of at least 36 months between the final Tir Mynydd exit payment and a possible future programme being implemented,” Bailey added.