British sheep farmers facing uncertain future
Published:  05 August, 2015

Hundreds of sheep farmers have been left doubting the future of their livelihoods after falling lamb prices have resulted in many producers being paid less than the cost of production.

Farmers, who could potentially be facing financial ruin, have rallied together in an effort to highlight their struggle. A social media campaign, #nolambweek, was launched between 1-7 August to encourage Welsh farmers to withhold their prime lambs.

In addition, convoys of tractors have caused roadblocks on the A50 in Staffordshire and Derbyshire, while hundreds of farmers have congregated outside supermarkets in protest.

“The situation many of our members are facing has become a crisis,” said president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Meurig Raymond.

He continued to call on supermarkets to support the local industry more, instead of importing foreign produce: “For many lamb producers, they need evidence that supermarkets will back British farming and give British lamb pride of place on the supermarket shelves. British lamb is in its prime right now and I, personally, find it very concerning that some retailers are continuing to promote New Zealand lamb when we have prime lamb, in season, on our doorstep.”

Ian Marshall, Ulster Farmers’ Union president, said: “This is a multi-factorial problem across the entire industry, both sectorally and geographically, for which there is no single solution. But it is essential that everyone in government and the supply chain plays their part in helping to urgently address these genuine and serious difficulties. The understandable frustration of farmers is starting to spill over into actions that no one wants."

NFU Scotland president Allan Bowie echoed the concerns of his contemporaries, urging something be done about this “UK-wide problem”.

“Our farming members are expressing real concern in Scotland at the desperate plight many of their businesses are facing due to the severe financial pressures imposed,” he said.

“This is obviously not sustainable for these businesses and, ultimately, going out of business is not an option. There needs to be a clear understanding from all of those involved that something has to change.”

However, Jo Turnbull, who is a trustee for the farming charity Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI), alongside being a qualified solicitor while keeping 150 breeding ewes with her husband, believes she can offer a solution to the turmoil of her peers.

She urged other sheep farmers who are struggling to pay off domestic bills to contact RABI for financial assistance.

Although farming is not Turnbull’s sole income, she understands the difficulty that lamb producers are facing.

“We’re lucky because farming is not our main livelihood, but falling prices is what everyone is talking about at the moment and, come September, I think we could see bigger problems. Hill farmers, who have nothing else to fall back on, could be in trouble if current trends continue.”

Raymond concluded that the way forward was to work as one unit: “Now, during this crisis in our industry, is the time for a united front, so it’s important the UK farming unions stand together to call for a commitment to back British farming.”