Market back in business following crisis

A 20-year low for lamb prices was the talk of the sheep ring at the first Norwich Livestock Market since the foot-and-mouth outbreaks in Surrey five weeks ago.

A 20-year low for lamb prices was the talk of the sheep ring at the first Norwich Livestock Market since the foot-and-mouth outbreaks in Surrey five weeks ago.

The resumption of the fortnightly market today was welcomed by a crowd of more than 100 farmers, who watched auctioneer Keith Rose sell stock again.

Although there was some bitterness at the costs of disruption by Defra to the farming and meat industries, most were more worried by the very low lamb prices.

Broadland farmer Pat Key, of Limpenhoe, near Yarmouth, was getting more for his finished lambs 20 years ago. “They've been making less than £40 per head. And I've lost a month's income. And you don't get any more for the animals that you've had to feed for another month.

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“The biggest worry that I have is that all the small customers are getting out. The latest outbreak is like the straw that breaks the camel's back,” said Mr Key.

Trevor Child, of Hevingham, near Aylsham, who would expect to sell more than 100 lambs a week, has not been able to gauge his total losses. While he expected that abattoirs and hauliers would claim against the government because markets and livestock movement were restricted, the farmers would be out of pocket.

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“You would be talking about thousands of pounds of losses because we were not able to market stock when it was ready to go,” said Mr Child.

The finished lamb trade was dreadful, partly because of the volume of animals off upland farms in the past fortnight. “I would say it is between £15 and £18 per head down on last year,” he added.

Mr Child, aged 56, who has been coming to the market for more than 40 years, questioned whether compensation would be paid.

“How are we going to get it? The abattoirs and the hauliers will have their money but the farmers will be the last ones in the line. And if we do anything wrong, they're down on us like a tonne of bricks,” he added.

David Ball, who is director of the farmer-owned market, said: “It is a fantastic day. It looked very frightening six weeks ago and we have lost 20pc of our business this year which we won't recover but it could have been a hell of a lot worse.”

He had calculated that closing the market each day would cost about £2,500 but doubted whether Defra would pay compensation given its record of incompetence at the Pirbright laboratories, the source of the two FMD cases in Surrey.

“Every livestock market in the country has lost six weeks' business. Today's margins are so thin,” he added.

Farmer Peter Howell, who is chairman of the market, estimated that the total losses were about £3,000, partly because they didn't employ full-time staff.

While some wanted to sue the government, Mr Howell, of Bintree, near Dereham, had doubts about the costs involved in legal action.

“People say that they're going to try but it is very difficult to deal with the government.

“The only people who'll benefit will be the lawyers.”

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