The suppliers of the Falkland Islands Meat Company (FIMCo) will be eligible for assistance through an FIG scheme, it was announced through a press statement on January 7. The support is in the form of £10 of compensation from FIG per head of mutton which cannot be processed by FIMCo, but does not make payments for cull sheep.
Payments within this scheme will be administered by the Falkland Islands Development Corporation (FIDC).
The need for this scheme comes following a FIG statement on November 16 explaining that a decision was made not to employ any overseas workers at the abattoir in the summer of 2021 – limiting the season within which the farms and FIMCo can operate.
The most recent announcement came with new information that FIMCo will be hiring eight additional staff who will be employed locally, allowing for a modified season which is intended to process all lamb, yearling, beef and “circa 22,000 mutton”, with the support of the eight additional staff.
This team of eight compares to a usual team of 40 brought in from South Africa and Chile to process the meat brought to the abattoir from across the Islands.
Penguin News spoke to Keith Heslop, Managing Director of FIMCo. He explained that while the scheme is an FIG initiative, rather than a FIMCo one, he was “absolutely delighted that [the government] has stepped in to support the farmers.” He explained that the decision in November to not bring in the team was “very very tough” but that it had been made due to difficulties relating to COVID-19 and Brexit.
The government press release in November stated that “the possibility of an ‘100 sheep or equivalent per day’ operation” was being investigated. Asked what sheep or equivalent per day number was being looked at now that the decision to take on a local team was made, Mr Heslop said that their first goal had been to “meet that jigger, local market and Christmas demands, and we’ve done that. Now we’re in a different place where we’re looking to have a mini export-season, and that’s where we’re trying to recruit local resources.”
Mr Heslop said that if the budget of eight local staff is met then the intention is to up production to a 200 equivalent per day. He pointed out to an additional challenge for the export season: getting a Halal inspector to visit, who will have to go through the usual paperwork for immigration and quarantine. Mr Heslop clarified that a lot of FIMCo products are sold into locations such as hospitals or prisons, which require Halal certification, where it “allows us the greatest opportunity to sell that product. We think we can sell the product, which is why we’re going ahead with the plan, but it is dependent on getting the Halal inspector down before it’s exported.”
Asked about the possibility of extending the season to ensure that animals are processed, Mr Heslop said that a certain level of extension is done “by default”.
“Normally we’d look to end an export season around April, we extended that to the end of June and we didn’t see any drop-off in quality. So I think that in terms of what we plan to do this year, subject to availability of incremental staff … is to try to extend that season for as long as possible so that we can get through as many animals as possible.”
Asked about the comparison of the 2021 goal of processing all lamb, yearling, beef and “circa 22,000 mutton” with previous regular years, Mr Heslop said that “the range is generally between 30 and 38,000 mutton. But we’ve been processing cull on top of that, which can be between five and ten thousand, so you could get up to 46 or 47,000 mutton including cull. But we have moved away from taking cull.”
Moving on to speak about the support scheme through which every head of mutton unprocessed is supported at the rate of £10 per head, with no payment made for cull sheep, Penguin News asked Mr Heslop what an average head of mutton was worth, and how the figure of £10 for unprocessed was reached.
He said: “Price we pay for mutton depends on the quality of the animal, we pay on weight and a price per kilogram … We worked closely with the Government, providing them with information so that they could come up with this particular support scheme.
Obviously the number depends, ”but what I can say is that £10, I think, is a fair price which not only reflects a price you get from FIMCo, but the additional cost that the farms have to pay to get the animals to FIMCo.” He continued: “I am in support of the calculation and what the government is willing to pay each farm.”
Mr Heslop also thanked the team at the abattoir, stating that: “We have a great team up at FIMCo. There’s a team that worked every day through that first spike. When things were shutting down in Stanley our team kept producing, pulling out all the stops to make sure that they kept the production line going and kept the supply going ... Meeting the demand of the local economy.”