From left, Longford Lamb Producer Group chairman, Joe Esler; Jonathan Forbes, Kepak; Tom Keenan, from Tang, (winner of the Mid-Season Lamb Producer award); and David Mannion, Kepak.

Producer group ensures good terms for local sheep farmers

Each Monday evening, farmers from a large swathe of south Westmeath and Longford arrive at the mart in Ballymahon, bringing with them sheep for transport on to the Kepak factory in Athleague.

“It suits all farmers, especially part-time farmers,” says Ben Lynn, from Tang, secretary of the Longford Lamb Producer Group, of which the farmers are members.

Around 100 farmers from around Longford and from Ballymore, Drumraney, Tubberclair, Loughnavalley and other parts of south Westmeath, are involved in the group.

The group is run for the benefit of all its members and is a not-for-profit organisation.

“All positions on the executive are carried out on a voluntary basis and are renewed at the annual general meeting held each year in early April,” says group chairman, Joe Esler, adding that any member can be proposed for any position, thus giving farmers an input to the running of the group.

The group arranges a contract every year with a factory – and as it has worked out, for the last several years, that contract has been with Kepak in Athleague. There’s a good professional working relationship with the factory, helped in no small part by the fact that as the weekly load of sheep is transported, the group endeavour at all times to have a group representative present at the factory to oversee the entire operation.

“Any problems or issues that arise with the factory are dealt with through the committee and the results communicated to the individual farmer. A dedicated representative is appointed for this sole purpose,” says Ben.

From the point of view of the farmers in the producer group, an advantage of membership is that a better price can be negotiated with the factory than that obtained by an individual farmer. A sub committee is tasked with this task on behalf of the group.

“The advantage for the factory is that it has a guaranteed weekly supply of lambs,” says Ben, explaining that the booking of lambs is carried out through the group’s joint coordinators to a dedicated group mobile number.

Says Joe, other benefits for group members are that they can avail of discounts on their farm insurance through a deal with FBD insurance. Deals for oil, feed, fertiliser and veterinary products are also negotiated on a yearly basis.

To facilitate the smooth running of the group, all members are issued with the rules on a yearly basis.

“We are fortunate to have buy-in from the members in adhering to the rules and embracing the ethos and objectives of the group,” says Ben. “This is evident through the fact that the group have grown membership year on year with a consequent increase in the number of lambs being processed through the group.”

It’s not all about work: open evenings are organised for group members. While these are educational, they also provide a forum for exchanging information and raising any problems they may have. An annual draw is also held each August for members.

• Anyone who requires more information can contact group chairman Joe Esler on 086 2709640 or group secretary Ben Lynn on 087 2379629, or any committee member.

Health and safety on agenda at Ballinagore event

The issues of farm safety and farmers’ health and wellbeing were to the fore at a gathering recently in Ballinagore of a group of lamb producers from Westmeath and Longford.

The event – organised by the members of the Longford Lamb Producer Group – was held on the farm of Tommy and Noel Claffey at Ballinagore.

Group chairman Joe Esler, who presided over the event, welcomed the large attendance and the guest speakers, Francis Bligh, Teagasc Health and safety specialist; Laura Tully from TUS Athlone and Barbara Allen from FBD Mullingar.

Mr Bligh’s presentation aimed at raising awareness of potential dangers on members’ own farms and at reducing the incidence of accidents.

The focus of the presentation by Laura Tully was on farmers’ health and wellbeing, while Ms Allen addressed the issue of farm insurance and the importance of keeping it updated.

The meeting was also addressed by representatives from Kepak Athleague, the factory the members of the producer group supply. Jonathan Forbes and David Mannion gave a detailed presentation on the present markets for sheep meat and future prospects for the sheep trade.

Afterwards the annual members’ draw was held and the early, mid and late lamb producers for 2021 were announced and presented with cups.

The committee thanked the Claffey family for putting their farm yard and facilities at the disposal of the group for the event.