The National Sheep Association (NSA) has welcomed Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead's offer to look at a funding package to explore a number of initiatives to help producers currently suffering desperately low prices for sheep.

One option would be to have a credit assurance scheme to underpin export markets.

"This would significantly help the sales of lamb into other EU countries, such as Spain and Portugal, and may well lead to new markets for Scotch lamb elsewhere in Europe," said George Milne, development officer for the NSA in Scotland.

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Mr Milne's comments followed a meeting between NSA Scotland and the Cabinet Secretary to start a dialogue between the Government and industry with regard to lamb prices and a recovery plan which will hopefully result in more stability for farmers.

The meeting also discussed efforts being made to secure a better deal for the sheep industry, including the repatriation of levy funds and how to increase lamb consumption in Scotland.

Commenting on the longer term, Jimmy Sinclair, NSA Scotland chairman, said: "We will be holding a joint meeting with NFU Scotland and QMS [Quality Meat Scotland] next week to set up a three-year plan for the sheep sector in order to try to avoid these low prices which farmers have had to experience over the past few months."

Market round-up

CRAIG Wilson sold 254 store bullocks at Ayr on Thursday to a top of £1270 per head and 246p per kg to average £844.98 and 198.6p, including 76 B&Ws that levelled at £819.61 and 159p. Top prices in the store heifer section were £1080 and 216p with the overall averages for the 158 sold levelling at £790.82 and 196.8p.

John Swan sold 55 store bullocks in St Boswells on Thursday to a top of £1190 and 217.6p to average £861.18 and 187.8p, while 50 store heifers peaked at £1030 and 206.9p, and levelled at £889.70 and 189.7p.

United Auctions sold 3821 prime hoggs at Stirling to a top of £94 per head and 205p per kg to average 154.1p (+10.3p on the week).

The Cumberland & Dumfriesshire Farmers' Mart had 5379 prime hoggs forward in Longtown when export types were easy to sell, with best quality Beltex and Texels between 220p and 270p. Heavy hoggs were sharper and lightweight ones with flesh also sold well, but others were little more than store price. Top prices on the day were £96.50 and 271p with the average levelling at 156.4p (+1.4p).

A smaller show of 4940 cast sheep saw Mule ewes similar on the week, while Blackface and Cheviot ewes with flesh were £2-£3 sharper. Heavy ewes sold to £116.50 for Texels and averaged £53.25 (-£2.03), while light ewes peaked at £51.50 for Cheviots and levelled at £32.64 (+£3.23). Cast rams sold to £118.50 for a Texel and averaged £55.71 (-91p).