ISLES MSP Tavish Scott has vowed to put pressure on the Scottish Government to do what it can to avoid a potential cull of Shetland hill lambs as a result of a shrinking market.
Traditionally strong markets such as Italy are now opting to buy in cheaper meat from Eastern Europe, cutting off demand for Shetland lambs.
Local NFU president Jim Nicolson said the “worst case scenario” resulting from this would be a cull of Shetland-bred light lambs, as there could be issues of overstocking or a lack of grazing.
Most local lambs usually get sent to an abattoir in Preston, but it has stopped taking light lambs for at least the next two weeks.
“It has been suggested that lambs coming from Eastern Europe into the Italian market are undercutting the price,” Nicolson said. “So that’s very much a matter of concern.”
He said an alternative could be to put the lambs back on the hills if they weren’t sold – “but that can lead to some overstocking in places, which is not a particularly good idea.”
It is also thought that some farmers and crofters wouldn’t have sufficient grazing to keep the lambs over the winter.
Some lambs are sent to the abattoir on the outskirts of Lerwick for local use, but the numbers affected are “far greater”.
“I’m sure there’s nobody that wants to be in a situation where they need to have a cull,” Nicolson added. “It’s very depressing if that has to take place.”
The situation looks set to come clearer once the abattoir in Preston decides in the coming weeks if it starts taking Shetland light lambs again.
The matter will be discussed at NFU Scotland’s livestock committee meeting in Edinburgh on Thursday (20 October).
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott meanwhile said he would write to Scottish agriculture minister Fergus Ewing to implore the government to look into new markets for the hill lambs.
“I am asking the Scottish Government to work with the agriculture unions and use such bodies as Quality Meat Scotland and Food & Drink Scotland to explore alternative markets, he said.
“Romanian lamb is being bought at cheaper prices for European markets such as Spain and Italy. These have in the past been strong markets for hill lamb including pure Shetlands.
“Crofters are facing a particularly difficult marketing season for Shetland lamb as the price has albeit collapsed with quality lamb not selling at anything like previous years’ prices.
“When added to the utter shambles of the CAP payment debacle this is a perfect storm. It is imperative that the Scottish Government use all their agencies and links to explore markets for light lambs given this very worrying situation.”
Charlie Adam, NFU Scotland’s livestock committee chairman, added: “NFU Scotland has been made aware of the concerns on Shetland regarding issues relating to light lambs, and this will be discussed at the union’s livestock committee on Thursday 20 October.
“In the meantime, the union will continue to liaise with its members who are local farmers and crofters to gather information to put together a case for taking forward.
“I’d ask local members to get in touch with me on 07761 290 131 or email@example.com to let me know of specific details regarding this issue.”