Sheep farmers face cash losses not seen since the 1980s

Sheep farmers are facing widespread cash losses not seen since the 1980s. 

While dairy prices are heading up, lamb and mutton prices are dropping. And that means profits are forecast to halve this year. 

Jason Wyn is the third generation to run the Marlow Hill farm in Waipukurau. 

Since he took over from his dad nine years ago, there have been some pretty good years - until now. 

"This is the first time in my short farming career we've seen profit drop this much... So, this is something I haven't seen before. They're talking about that this is the worst profit levels since the 1980s," he said. 

The 54 percent drop in forecast earnings comes on top of a profit hit last year. 

Lamb prices are forecast to drop 12 percent this year and mutton 34 percent. That means the average farm profit will be just $62,500 - that's for the whole household. 

While it's been a great growing season, that doesn't translate to great sales. 

Reduced demand from a weak Chinese economy coupled with increased meat exports from Australia are both driving down prices. 

"We're looking for a lot of little $1000 savings in the big-ticket items," Wyn said. 

Some sheep farmers are considering transitioning to beef cattle where prices are holding up - although changing over requires new bank finance in a high interest rate environment. 

Beef and Lamb NZ is running workshops on the East Coast to come up with solutions. 

"You've got to be an optimist in this world, people are going to eat. So, while the market is back a bit, they've still got to have food and we produce really good food in this country," said Mark Harris of Beef + Lamb NZ. 

For Wyn, there is no alternative - it's not just a livelihood that's at stake, it's a family tradition.