Landlines: Forget about breed types and ram prices and focus on breeding figures

I do like an optimist. Step forward Dewi Jones, chief executive of sheep genetics company Innovis, who said in a recent interview that UK sheep farmers will change their mindset over the next ten years.

He said: “Sheep producers will move away from looking for the perfect markings or the biggest head and focus much more on breeding figures. Crucially, this change will not be driven by pedigree breeders. It will be driven by commercial sheep farmers.”

Want to bet? Modesty should forbid, but I’ve been saying for longer than I like to think that sheep farmers must forget about fancy points of breed type and ludicrous ram prices and concentrate on what can be measured such as growth rate and carcase conformation. Only by doing that can lamb compete with mass produced chicken and pork, where both poultry and pig production rely exclusively on measured traits, replicating what is wanted by the market millions of times.

Production isn’t hit or miss based on breeders’ whims. It is fact-based, timed to the day, start to finish. In short, it’s efficient.

Forward thinking sheep farmers have done that. They use sire recording and measure everything that can be measured. They produce commercial lamb that the shopper wants. There are now enough of them that we’re not voices in the wilderness. But it’s the same old autumn story in last week’s farming magazines: commercial lamb prices down 10% on last year, but don’t worry, a Blackface ram sold for a new record of £100,000 and a Swaledale ram for £55,000. How do we reconcile those facts? We can’t, and I’ve given up trying.

But Mr Jones, a younger man and still optimistic, told Farmers Guardian in a slightly mixed metaphor: “Pedigree breeders will breed for other pedigree breeders until the cows come home, and if they are silly enough to buy at those prices between each other, so be it.”

I would love to believe that and I wish Mr Jones well with sales of his statistically-bred Innovis rams. But if next autumn does not produce another record breaking six-figure ram price while news stories lament dismal lamb prices and sheep farmers going out of business because of reduced subsidies I will be surprised.

A New Holland combine has set a new official world record by harvesting 797.656 tonnes of wheat in eight hours.

The CR10.90 is equipped with twin pitch rotors, dynamic feed roll, SmartTrax rubber tracks, Terraglide suspension, ECOBlue SCR and Hi-eSCR engine technologies, all coupled with the Harvest Suite Ultra cab that “redefines harvesting comfort.” I am sorry to say that I have little idea of what the publicity man for New Holland was talking about. But it sounds impressive. As will the price of the combine if we had been told. I’m guessing at £500,000 upwards.