Comment: Development in the sheep sector are worthy of note

Recent weeks have seen hogget prices take off while, at the same time, prime beef returns have languished at levels that serve only to create worrying losses for cattle finishers. These contrasting trends show, yet again, how fickle and unpredictable the world’s agri food markets have become.

Hats off to sheep producers: they deserve every penny they can get. I am old enough to remember when lamb production really was the poor relation of local agriculture. However, surely the principle must hold that strengthening trends within one food sector should be replicated across all the other facets of farming. Or put another way: if consumers are prepared to pay realistic prices for lamb – then they should be willing and able to take the same approach where beef, dairy, poultry, vegetables etc are concerned.

The key challenge that confronts farmers and their representative bodies is the lack of transparency that continues to exist within the agri food supply chain. The farmgate costings associated with every aspect of food production are known to the very fraction of a penny. Yet, no one seems to know how the supermarkets go about their business. They continue to operate a closed book system when it comes to making public their margins on the various product lines they sell. This state of affairs must be changed. And if national governments can’t confront this challenge – for whatever reason – then it’s up to the authorities in Brussels to take control.

But it is worth noting that UK politicians are, at long last, starting to take note of the supermarkets’ buying practices. The recent condemnation by the House of Lords’ EU Committee to the effect that the multiples must stop their widespread policy of providing ‘buy one get one free’ offers in their outlets is a very positive step in delivering sustainable returns for farmers. This pernicious practice served no real purpose – apart for boosting retailers’ profit margins – as it merely deflated producer returns while, at the same time, creating more food waste. So much for the multiples’ commitment to the environment!

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