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Lambs and Brexit on NFU AGM agenda

The NFU's livestock committee chairman Charlie Adam.

THE “CALAMITOUS” fall in the price of Shetland light lambs and the effect of Brexit on farmers and crofters will be on the agenda at NFU Scotland’s branch meeting in Lerwick next week.

The union’s livestock committee chairman Charlie Adam will head north to lead the event, which will take place at the Shetland Hotel from 7.30pm.

Adam will update locals on the progress made on the situation with native Shetland lambs, which has prompted concerns of a cull as traditional markets such as Italy opt to buy cheaper meat from Eastern Europe.

The abattoir in Lerwick is said to be too small to process as many as 20,000 lambs that are coming off the hills this year.

Adam confirmed that NFU Scotland has written to major retailers in an attempt to boost the market for light lambs, while it has also spoken to processors and levy bodies.

“I am delighted to be asked to attend the Shetland branch meeting where there are clearly important topics to discuss,” the committee chairman said ahead of the meeting.

“The dramatic decline in price for light lambs will have a huge impact on many members on Shetland. The weak pound has done little to improve the trade and, being a niche product, it is a fragile supply chain prone to volatility.

“There are no easy solutions to the situation but I hope to have a good discussion with the local members and agree on how the Union can continue to assist.

“We have already written to all the major retailers and those involved in public procurement asking them to consider new markets and outlets for the island lamb. We have also spoken to processors and levy bodies about how we can increase the customer base.

“Furthermore, we have looked at the continental market to better understand what could be driving the fall in price. I have recently spoken to another lamb group about how it operates with the intention of increasing returns for their farmers.

“I would like to discuss whether this model might assist Shetland. Light lamb is also a huge market for Wales and I hope to catch up with my Welsh colleagues on this before visiting Shetland.”

Also on the agenda at the AGM will be how farming and crofting will look in relation to subsidies once the UK leaves the European Union.

Adam suggested that Brexit could offer opportunities to develop policy that is “fit for purpose” for Scotland.

“For our farming and crofting members on Shetland, producing food profitably remains a real challenge. Excellent work has seen the Union successfully lobbying for the Scottish Government to bring forward support payments, through the loan scheme, putting vital funds into the rural economy in recent days,” he said.

“But will such support systems be in place beyond 2020? The Brexit vote presents an opportunity to make sure Scotland has an agricultural and crofting policy that is fit for purpose and I am keen to hear the views of Shetland members on what they want NFU Scotland to be pressing for on their behalf as the debate starts to open up.”