Sheep farmers “cannot accept” the cuts in factory lamb prices, which is leading to their incomes being “eroded”, according to the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

Sean Dennehy, the association’s national sheep chairman, placed the blame for the income situation in the sector on factory price cuts, weight restrictions, clipping charges and the introduction of mandatory electronic identification (EID) tagging.

“Farmers are now back €11/head on their lambs,” Dennehy claimed.

The IFA sheep chair broke down this income difference in the following way:

  • Price difference 2018-2019 (35c/kg x 21.5kg) = €7.52/head;
  • Carcass weights (0.5kg x €4.50/kg) = €2.25/head;
  • Increase costs of EID tagging = €1/head;
  • Clean sheep charge (at some plants) = 30c/head;
  • Total price/weight changes and charges 2018-2019 = €11.07/head.

According to Dennehy, some meat plants “are imposing excessive price cuts of 50c/kg on heavier lambs”.

Dennehy explained that a delegation from the IFA met with management in Irish Country Meats (ICM) in Co. Wexford this week.

IFA made it very clear to ICM management that sheep farmer anger is rising over lamb price cuts as well as weight restrictions and the imposition of unfair clipping charges.

He pointed out the difference in price between Ireland and New Zealand, where lambs are getting 60c/kg more then they are here.

“Farmers cannot accept that factories continue to cut lamb prices when there is little or no change in retail prices,” Dennehy warned.

He claimed that the price cuts in recent weeks suggest “either very poor marketing or excessive profiteering by the processors and retailers”.

The IFA is demanding that carcass weights be “immediately” moved up to 22kg at this time of year.

Dennehy also highlighted the Brexit situation, which he said is a “major issue in the sheep meat sector, with uncertainty eroding the market and prices, and with UK farmers off-loading lambs ahead of the October 31 deadline”.

“On top of this, the sheep sector has the Northern Ireland import issue; the land bridge route; the New Zealand quota; and tariffs on Irish exports to the UK market,” he added.

The IFA is also demanding that factories include a “strong” quality assurance (QA) bonus of 30c/kg, arguing that the current QA top-up is “totally unacceptable”.

“The price cuts over recent weeks have seen lamb price drop significantly below the critical €5.00/kg mark, and has left sheep farmers seriously struggling financially,” Dennehy added.