Farmers less sheepish on yet another meaty niche

To add another source of income and diversify the farm’s business, sheep farmer Raitis Meiers from near central Vidzeme province’s Lubāna flatlands launched his new line of smoked lamb. Though sheep farming is widely practiced throughout Latvia, Meiers knows the demand for high-quality lamb meat is a wide-open opportunity just on the domestic scale.

The thermometer on the smokehouse reads zero at the moment but it will be fired up for the new product in just a few days to provide for the Christmas market.

With the help of a state Agricultural Support Service project he proudly showed off the equipment he was able to acquire and install in October to begin his own homestead’s production line.

“Here’s the meat grinder, made for up to 400 kilograms an hour,” he began the list. “Here are the work tables, refrigerator, smoking chamber,” the commercial farm owner went on.

Though it’s too early to talk profits, Meiers is estimating it will pay off after seeing how the first months have gone. Hopes for expansion are stymied by a lack of pasture in the Lubāna neighborhood fields, where he already rents extra land on top of his own 40 hectares. He resents the “armchair farmers” who keep their land idle and can't be persuaded to let his sheep graze on it, even for proper remuneration.

He even imagines further modernization of his own facility, yet didn’t have the co-financing wherewithal to risk trying out for another project proposal despite his previous success attracting funds.

The two workers he’s hired are just now getting ready for the most intensive season – the birthing of the lambs.

“No sleep whatsoever in the wintertime! Starting in December, on through March – every two hours out to the barn to check on them,” said Juris Spalviņš, one of the sheep herders on the farm. “Good thing there’s another set of hands around here, then it’s manageable. But forget about any snoozing. Summertime – that’s the time for naps!”

The farm’s trademark name Apogi has already managed to garner a popular diploma of distinction at this year’s Riga Food exhibit, despite being at the very beginning of its journey preparing and selling smoked lamb meat.

Also the Latvian Sheep Farmers’ Association is preparing to launch a three-year public awareness campaign with the help of a group of agencies and hoped-for EC and state funding, reported LETA in November. The goal of the long-term promotion is to raise knowledge and consumption of lamb meat domestically, as well as seek foreign trade opportunities in Sweden and Germany that could lead to eventual exports.

Dina Avotiņa of the Association told LETA the sector was growing, with herds increasing from over 80,000 in 2009 to over 100,000 in the summer of 2014. “We’ve drafted our strategy to get to a herd of a million animals by 2023. People are learning more about it and getting over their stereotypes about lamb meat, and one mustn’t forget the culinary preferences of those of foreign origin living in Latvia. So we predict the average consumption per person – around 0.2 kilograms of meat per resident – will be multiplied repeatedly.”

Meanwhile, in November nearby Madona district farmer’s daughter Agnese Eiduka of Lejas Virgabaļi homestead won the award for best rural entrepreneurial project for her proposal to raise sheep for milk, which she is now in the process of bringing to life.

She was selected for her project among 58 contenders and won a money prize for her persuasive business proposal after taking part with hundreds of other youth from all of Latvia’s regions under the auspices of the state (Agriculture Ministry) Rural Consultation and Education Center.

Already in its third year, the Laukiem būt! contest has popularized rural entrepreneurship, showing hundreds of young people how their business ideas can come true in the countryside, creating jobs and profits.

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