THE closure of the catering and hospitality sector across the UK and mainland Europe in late March led to an immediate collapse of sheep meat sales, according to a prominent Cumbrian sheep farmer

Writing for the Cumberland News, Eddie Eastham, Chair of The National Sheep Associations UK Policy and Technical Committee, adds that values quickly recovered and although there have been problems with carcase balance, prices are now similar to this time last year.

Exports to the EU, whilst at a lower level than normal, have been an increase over recent weeks, says Mr Eastham, who farms on the outskirts of Carlisle.

"Following efforts by the Livestock Auctioneers Association and all round support from many individuals, auction marts have, by adapting different working practices, continued to operate, helping to maintain an element of competition in the marketplace," says Mr Eastham.

"One of the strengths of the UK sheep industry is its diversity, with a wide range of breeds , geographical areas and management systems. The destination of our products is equally diverse, providing a market for all types of production systems, and whilst some of these outlets have been cut off due to the Corvid 19 epidemic others have seen an increase in sales," he adds.

"An important feature over recent weeks has been the increased volume of sales through local butchers, farm shops etc.

"It would be good to see consumers continue to support these outlets in future and more direct promotion from levy bodies for this important area of retail would be welcomed.

"As we move into the early summer period an increased volume of lamb will be marketed, probably before the hospitality industry reopens, therefore putting pressure on producer returns.

"Here again, we will be looking towards our levy bodies and retailers to promote our excellent product and support farmers by increasing sales.

"One small but growing section of the British Sheep Industry particularly hard hit are sheep milk producers, losing 90 percent of their market overnight," says Mr Eastham.

The British Sheep Dairying Association (BSDA) has voiced its concerns about the future viability of member businesses with processors cancelling sheep milk orders as a result of the spreading virus.