English sheep farmers look to cash in on China demand
Gaining access to the Chinese market for lamb produced in England would be a game-changer for the industry there and help manage price volatility, according to EBLEX.
Though any export deal for beef and lamb is still several years off and subject to intense negotiation, with a rapidly growing middle class and resulting steep upward demand for red meat as diets change, the potential returns from sales in the Far East are likely to be tens of millions per year.
To better understand where the real opportunities lay and how the market works, EBLEX is currently leading a small delegation to China with the National Farmers Union (NFU) and National Sheep Association (NSA). They were invited to the Inner Mongolia region, which has the largest sheep population in the world and currently supplies much of its lamb to be consumed on the Chinese domestic market.
Jean-Pierre Garnier, EBLEX export manager, and Chris Lloyd, EBLEX industry development manager, are travelling with Charles Sercombe, the NFU’s Livestock Board chairman, and Phil Stocker, president of the National Sheep Association (NSA), to visit a range of farming and sheep breeding companies as well as farms, abattoirs and markets.
“Wages are rising by 13 per cent a year and demand for lamb is expected to hit one million tonnes by 2020. The potential is significant if we can secure market access and English producers and processors will be the big winners,” said Chris.
“We do need to properly understand the Chinese sheep sector and its current supply chain to see where our own producers could fit in and how that would be best achieved.
“For instance, with lamb production being cyclical, there may be periods where their supply is shorter and that it something we may be able to capitalise on.
“The Far East is already the second largest export market for lamb, after France, even without access to mainland China, which may still be several years away.
“While China is undoubtedly an important destination for many fifth quarter products for which there is no domestic market, with the changing demographic of the population, there is also opportunity in the high-end market, with quality assured product.
“We are delighted to have been invited here to learn more and there are clear benefits for the whole industry back in the UK.”
Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) figures show that in the 50 years from 1961 to 2011, Chinese meat consumption rose from under 4kg per capita per year to over 57kg. This has been reflected in a huge growth in imports, particularly in recent years. Volumes have increased from less than 60,000 tonnes in 2010 to 254,400 tonnes of lamb and mutton in 2013.