Shoppers in Northern Ireland are being urged to support their sheep farmers by buying Northern Ireland Farm Quality Assured lamb, the Ulster Farmers’ Union says.

UFU Beef and Lamb Chairman, Crosby Cleland, says that sheep producers are enduring the worst lamb prices for six years.

The call to support the North’s farmers comes as dairy farmers protest at Stormont as a specially convened Agricultural Committee meeting to debate the matter of milk prices takes place.

Cleland says the collapse in the value of the euro has had a devastating impact on meat exports, leading to a prolonged period of unsustainable prices for local sheep producers.

“With so much pressure on our export trade, this makes the home market all the more important, so we need strong support from both the retailers and Northern Ireland shoppers.

“What hasn’t helped is the fact that some retailers have kept high levels of New Zealand lamb on their shelves during the UK lamb season.

This has created additional price pressure for local farmers and I would encourage all shoppers to keep a close eye out for Northern Ireland Farmer Quality Assured lamb.

“If you don’t see it, please ask the retailer why they are not supporting local product,” he says.

Income from this year’s lamb crop has plunged by 20% compared to last year, leaving many of the 9,000 sheep producing farms in a loss making situation, the UFU says.

Cleland says that they simply can’t sustain prices at this level.

“Making matters worse are reports that retailers have increased their share of the end price while producer prices have fallen.

“This is extremely disheartening for the farming families that have worked hard all year to produce high quality food for local consumers,” he says.

The UFU Beef and Lamb Chairman also said that for farmers their home market is a safety net, meaning local support is crucial.

Cleland also said lamb is probably the most natural product produced in the North, sourced as it is from many of the most iconic landscapes such as the Mournes, Glens of Antrim, Sperrins and the Fermanagh lakelands.

“Without sheep production and the land management skills of farmers the rural countryside we all admire and enjoy would just not be the same.

“This highlights the importance of support for local lamb production, so I would urge consumers to buy Northern Ireland Farm Quality Assured lamb.  When they do so they are showing their support for local jobs, the local economy and the rural environment,” Cleland said.