26th March 2014

Sheep Farmers Urged to Work Together to Seize Opportunities

Sheep farmers were urged to seize the lamb production opportunities before them by one of the speakers at a series of lamb supply chain workshops which are being held around the country, supported by Quality Meat Scotland, Farm Stock (Scotland) Ltd and the Scottish Government Skills Development Scheme.

Borders farmer Andrew Elliot, who is based at Blackhaugh near Galashiels, said working together would be a key factor in the successful future of the Scottish sheep industry.

“The fact is that there are 15,000 farmers, 20 processors and just five or six main retailers marketing 70% of our lamb. It’s not hard to see where the balance of power lies and it’s a no-brainer to me to see that there needs to be more farmers involved in marketing groups,” said Mr Elliott who employs Farm Stock (Scotland) Ltd to market the lambs from his four hill and upland units.

“The reality is that we’re seeing our sheep population continue to fall – having reduced by 16% in the past 10 years.

“However, the Borders has one sixth of Scotland’s total ewe flock and we produce around 19% of the lambs in Scotland. We have perfect terrain for producing top quality lamb and it is important we make the most of the opportunity we have to do so.”

Talking through the background to his own farm business at one of the pack-out meetings Mr Elliot said every farmer makes his or her own choice regarding the system they choose to run.

At Blackhaugh Mr Elliot has 2000 acres which extend up to 1650 feet above sea level on pretty stoney ground with a short grazing season.

“My choice of system and breed has taken about 15 – 20 years to evolve but we now have a profitable, low input system with low labour requirement centred on the Chevease, a wool-shedding cross between the Cheviot and Easycare breeds,” he said.

All the 1600 ewes and 400 hoggs are lambed outside from 25th April onwards, with the number of lambs sold off the farm averaging 155% per ewe last year. The first batch of lambs is ready to go by the end of July off grass with the later lambs finished on forage crops, with all lambs sold averaging approximately 19 kilos weight through the season.

Mr Elliot was one of the speakers – including processors, hauliers, retailers and industry experts - at the series of free producer workshops designed to look at ways to add value, reduce waste and develop a more competitive, profitable Scottish sheep sector.

The practical and interactive workshops are being held in three regions and funded by Quality Meat Scotland, Farm Stock (Scotland) Ltd. and the Scottish Government Skills Development Scheme. The meetings are facilitated by SAC Consulting and aim to enhance collaboration and communication in the supply chain, and improve productivity and profitability at all levels.

The workshops are expanding on key findings from a project undertaken during the 2012/13 lamb marketing season which identified that every link of the supply chain - from farmers to hauliers, processors and retailers - is struggling to make a margin due to the absence of an integrated, collaborative supply chain.

The report describes the Scottish sheep industry being hampered by what is known as an ‘adversarial trading model’, whereby each part of the supply chain is interested in achieving the best outcome for itself. The result is that every link of the chain – from farmers to hauliers, processors and retailers - is now struggling to make a margin. 

An integrated collaborative supply chain, the report states, would deliver better outcomes and would help meet the objective of identifying problems and implementing changes that could increase margins for each part of the supply chain.

Hauliers were identified in the report as being in an ideal position to identify issues from both ends of the chain. Key on-farm issues in the period from lamb drafting to sale were identified as: poor handling and loading facilities; gathering lambs on time; keeping fleeces dry before transit and avoiding dirty lambs by offering only water in the 12 hours before transport. 

Sign up for the latest news and views