A DOWNWARD trend in sheep numbers across the Islands will impact on the future levels of wool and meat production for the next few years, Senior Agriculture Advisor Ian Campbell told the Agricultural Advisory Committee last week.
He added that Falkland Landholding’s (FLH) decision to reduce the number of animals to the abattoir so they could build up the flocks could even raise questions about the viability of the Meat Company (FIMCO).
Mr Campbell recommended that the Department of Agriculture and the farming community continued to strive towards increasing breeding ewe efficiency, lambing and hoggett performances and to reverse the trend in declining stocking rate, and rebuild meat exports. “Part of this process will be to develop and improve business skills in particular,” he said.
FLH General Manager Neil Judd told Penguin News that the company remained strongly committed to supplying quality sheep/yearling lambs (and cattle) to FIMCO.
“We need the additional income that it provides to help build a business that is strong and resilient into the future.”
Mr Judd explained that as circumstances had changed with supply of new season lamb (NSL) and yearling lamb (YL) to FIMCo, FLH had not been able to increase ewe numbers, increase lambs born or reduce death rates by enough to keep the FLH farms full.
“As such FLH simply does not have the wether flocks to supply the numbers of sheep that it has over recent years,” he said.
“Full farms is the key decision point for the Board of FLH and the goal of growing farming profit.
“For FLH profit will be generated from wool sales and sale of surplus animals to FIMCO.
“The Board has identified all of these issues as being strategically important to FLH and also in all likelihood to farming generally.Programmes are in place to address these priority issues within FLH.”
The plan is for FLH farms to supply a minimum of 16,000 sheep to FIMCO this year.
“Acknowledging that we run approximately 30 per cent of the Falkland Islands sheep flocks but supply a much greater proportion of FIMCO’s export sheep throughput (including in all likelihood in 2016 as well) shows that we are still trying very hard to support FIMCO and will continue to do so into the future,” concluded Mr Judd.
Falkland Islands Meat Company Manager John Ferguson was quick to warn against a “knee-jerk reaction,” to the figures being displayed. He said the Falklands was not exceptional in seeing decreases in sheep numbers, and that he had calculated back in 2002/03 that numbers over time would probably fall to around 450,000 until they stabilised and farmers adjusted to the new industry.
Mr Ferguson said total sheep numbers had in fact been stable for the past six years adding that there had been severe drops in sheep numbers in the years before the Meat Company had moved into export.
He drew attention to the fact that some farms were no longer stocked (his own former business at Weddell Island had resulted in around 8,000 animals being removed from the statistics) and farmers were making many different decisions reflecting lifestyles and the economy.
“We all need to work together and I hope there is not a knee-jerk reaction by farmers to this information,” he said.
Income from lamb export is a valuable and predicted income for farmers with prices for weight and quality given well in advance of production and finishing. This provides a valuable hedge for wool market fluctuations and also has cash flow advantages.
While the size of the wether flock across the Islands has dropped dramatically (from approximately 200,000 in 1999/2000 to 92,500 in 2013/24) resulting in a drop in wool production of about 600,000kg per annum the ewe flocks are dropping slowly for various reasons, but is being compensated to a degree by an increase in percentage of lambs marked.
Mr Campbell said lamb and young sheep mortality contributes to a greater loss of sheep numbers than exporting lambs, and a reduction of these losses by just one third should be achievable and would allow ewe flocks to grow as well as increasing the number of wethers being kept as wool growing animals if current processing rates continue.
“This should be a long term goal in order to sustain lamb export and could be made a priority work area for the Department of Agriculture,” he said.
lFLH has supplied more than 20,000 sheep to the abattoir each year since 2008/09 with a peak of 28,634 in the 2013/14 season. In many years this has equated to almost 50 per cent of FIMCo throughput being supplied by FLH.