Sheep farmers are understandably shocked at reports that supermarket staff are suggesting  UK lamb is ‘out of season’ to explain high volumes of New Zealand meat on the shelves.

The National Sheep Association (NSA) has called it a “bitter blow” for UK sheep farmers at a time when farm-gate prices are struggling and many are not receiving financial returns that cover the cost of production.

The NSA says that farm-gate prices dropped to an “unacceptable” level in the autumn, with the value of a single lamb being up to £30 less than a year ago, but this has still not resulted in lower retail prices that would encourage more consumers to buy and enjoy British lamb.

Phil Stocker, NSA chief executive, says, “The weather last summer and autumn resulted in lambs growing far slower than normal and this has delayed the normal seasonal peak of production by six to eight weeks. Unfortunately this peak then clashed with New Zealand imports, which has led to a severe fall in prices. In an ideal world the result would be a drop in shelf price, which would stimulate more demand with the price balancing itself out, but the realities of our markets mean that this is not happening.

“While the UK always sees a seasonal peak and trough of numbers of lambs marketed, the nature of our farms means there is never a time when UK lamb is out of season. Across the UK we have a varied climate, which results in earlier and later lambing and this in itself spreads the supply of lambs. In addition, when you consider the close relationship between sheep farming and our iconic landscapes – our hills and uplands, downland, lowland meadows and coastal marshes – and the diversity of breeds they support, it is easy to see why quality lamb is available all year round.

“We know the public value our countryside and landscape and by choosing UK lamb we can all do our bit to make sure we support the farmers who are keeping it in a condition for us to enjoy.”

Mr Stocker says: “A quick look at supermarket shelves shows New Zealand is often a very similar price to British lamb and that frequently there is a range of products and a mix of nationalities. We urge you to consider the UK sheep farmers, working hard in the terrible weather we have seen, and buy British lamb even if it means trying a different cut or cooking method – you never know, you may find a new family favourite.”

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