RECENTLY, I had the opportunity to discuss the future of the sheep industry in Llangollen, as the guest of NFU Cymru’s Glyn Ceiriog branch.

Inevitably, the prospects for agriculture after Brexit were high on the agenda.

Farmers were very aware of the importance of exports.

At the moment, over a third of Welsh lamb goes overseas and the vast majority of those exports are to the European Union.

Exports are very useful to maintain farm-gate prices when lamb supplies are plentiful in the summer and autumn, and also to balance the carcase; whereas British consumers prefer lamb legs, other cuts can often be sold more profitably abroad.

Those present in Llangollen were keen to discuss what might arise from the current discussions between the EU and the UK Government over future trade arrangements.

The situation is uncertain. But economists who have modelled the potential impact emphasise that different farming sectors face very different outcomes.

Introducing tariff barriers to trade between the UK and Europe may offer opportunities for some.

However, for exporting sectors such as the sheep industry, securing a Free Trade Agreement with the EU would be by far the best outcome, allied to keeping imports from New Zealand and Australia to current or lower levels.

This would minimise disruption to a lamb export trade which is showing promising growth – helped by a competitive exchange rate and HCC promotional campaigns in key markets such as Germany, where UK lamb sales jumped by 25 per cent in 2017.

Many farmers in this area, of course, are keenly aware that the trade in ‘light’ lamb carcases has not been so buoyant in recent years. This was another hot topic among NFU Glyn Ceiriog members.

Economic problems in the Mediterranean region undermined exports at the start of this decade and trade is increasingly in cuts rather than carcases, which makes larger lambs cheaper to process per kilo of weight.

The solution is two-fold. While it won’t be possible for everyone, if some farmers could take advantage of grassland and breeding improvements to increase the weights at which lambs are marketed, that could have a positive impact on returns for the industry. At the same time, HCC is exploring potential markets further afield.

Since the meeting in Llangollen, we have been successful in lifting restrictions on exporting to Saudi Arabia. In time, this and other new markets may offer opportunities to boost trade in both standard and light lamb, and offset the current Brexit uncertainty.

Rhys Llywelyn, HCC market development manager