Slaughtering Season Off to Uncertain Start Skip to content

Slaughtering Season Off to Uncertain Start

By Larissa Kyzer

Icelandic sheep
Photo: Ian Funk.

The slaughtering season has begun in Sauðarkrókur in Northwest Iceland, RÚV reports, but uncertainty about meat prices has many farmers concerned about their earnings in the coming months.

Those who hold slaughtering licenses set the prices at which meat will be bought from producers each season. But although the slaughtering season is underway or about to begin in most places, license holders still have not announced what purchase prices will be this year. At the beginning of August, the National Association of Sheep Farmers demanded an increase of 132 krónur [$0.96; €0.81] per kilo on last year’s prices, which averaged ISK 600 [$4.35; €3.86] a kilo. Lamb and mutton prices in Iceland have not kept pace with those on the international market and are, in fact, the lowest in Europe. Slaughter license holders are not required to abide by a set reference price but are instead, free to set prices as they see fit at all stages.

“There’s a great deal of uncertainty about this because of COVID,” remarks Unnsteinn Snorri Snorrason, director of the National Association of Sheep Farmers. This is, he continues, both a function of uncertainty about the status of the market as well as how the slaughtering season will fare with staffing shortages in the industry.

Slaughterhouses have predominantly been staffed by foreign workers in recent years, but bringing in workers from abroad is more difficult now during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Finding Icelandic workers for slaughterhouses has proved equally difficult. Thus, these staffing shortages could easily delay the slaughter this year.

See Also: Without Foreign Workers, Slaughterhouses Face Staffing Shortages

“I think people are operating on the assumption that things won’t be as efficient as usual and maybe it’s for the best that people are taking longer,” Unnstein says. “It’s necessary to train staff and get a routine in place … But we don’t have as many of the key people needed to make this happen as we usually do.”

Unnsteinn says that the lamb stock is essentially what it was last year, and although there are fewer tourists coming to the country right now, he doesn’t see this as a reason for lamb production to contract any further than it already has.

“Maybe it’s not a direct result of [fewer tourists], but of course, this has an effect on the market in some way,” he explains. “We also have an opportunity to increase exports, but first and foremost, we need to see higher meat prices. If we don’t see those, then we won’t see an increase in production—rather, we’ll see a contraction in production across the board.”

Still, there is enough demand for prime cuts of lamb on the domestic market, Unnsteinn asserts, “[e]specially now that we’ve considerably reduced production. Just looking at lamb meat, we’ve cut down by some 1100 tons in just a few years. Our biggest market is the domestic one and it has been fairly stable comparatively. We’re getting good results from the foreign markets we’re building, though. And you can’t forget that part of what we’re exporting are inexpensive cuts that we don’t have a market for here in Iceland.”

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