Sheep company merger hopes to boost supply

A major merger in the Canadian sheep business announced July 20 is designed to establish an integrated lamb supply chain.

Alberta-based SunGold Specialty Meats announced plans to merge with Fresh Canada Meats to form North American Lamb Company Ltd. (NALC).

SunGold’s processing plant in Innisfail, Alta., and the Canada Gold lamb lot at Iron Springs, Alta., are owned by Canada Gold Beef Ltd. Fresh Canada Meats is the majority shareholder of Canada Sheep and Lamb Farms Ltd. of Stony Mountain, Man. Fresh Canada Meats is a wholly owned subsidiary of Integrated Foods Ltd. of New Zealand.

Miles Kliner, general manager of SunGold Specialty Meats, said July 23 that consistent and sufficient supply of lamb for both domestic use and export has long been a challenge for Canadian producers, processors and marketers.

“Our single biggest challenge over the years has been supply, consistent supply, year-round supply of the right types and qualities, and something needs to change in that regard,” he said.

“There’s such a tremendous opportunity in the lamb industry in Canada. There’s continually growing demand for lamb in Canada on a per capita consumption basis, and the supply has just not been meeting that demand.”

NALC’s plan is to control lamb production and marketing of lamb from genetics through to breeding, finishing, processing and sales.

It is expected to involve a significant increase in lamb numbers that are bred, fed and processed.

Kliner said the target is to process 200,000 per year, a major increase compared to this year’s expected level of 84,000 head at SunGold.

Canada Sheep and Lamb Farms in Manitoba has a breeding flock of more than 35,000 ewes and plans to increase that soon to 50,000 head, according to a news release about the merger.

The Canada Gold lamb lot in southern Alberta has a licenced one-time capacity of 50,000 lambs and can finish more than 200,000 market lambs per year, said the release.

SunGold Specialty Meats is Canada’s largest federal lamb processing plant and ships product domestically and internationally.

News about the merger was still being digested by industry groups at press time July 23.

Gordon Schroeder, executive director of the Saskatchewan Sheep Development Board, said he hoped to get more details from NALC before making comment. The chair and first vice-chair of Alberta Lamb were unavailable for comment July 23.

Kliner said any effect the merger might have on the price of lamb cannot easily be predicted.

“What I can tell you is that we see a demand opportunity in Canada continuing to grow,” he said.

“Lamb is the only red meat protein that has grown in per capita consumption in the last dozen years.”

He said statistics show prices paid for lamb for the past six to seven years have been increasing even as lamb production numbers have dropped.

Most lamb supply comes from small producers or those who raise lamb as a sideline or hobby, creating challenges for consistent supply and quality. Supply in particular has been a topic at producer meetings over many years.

Kliner said the merger is a way to create a more sustainable lamb industry.

“I believe Sungold has done everything we could have done over those years to try and encourage more of that type of production, offer up hope and positive message about what those opportunities are and what exists.

“In spite of that, lamb numbers have not grown. They’ve actually gone down for the most part. So this is about addressing that need and providing opportunity to producers out there that share that optimistic view and approach.”

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