By Debbie James

Contingency plans are being drawn up for the Welsh sheep sector amid claims that thousands of sheep might need to be culled to stabilise prices if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal.

With 90 per cent of lamb produced in Wales exported to Europe, rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths admits she has “great concern’’ for the Welsh sheep sector.

As such, plans are being drawn up for the sector should the UK leave Europe on March 29 without a deal.

“I can’t go into details about this contingency plan because it is being worked up but we have also got to manage expectation,’’ said Ms Griffiths during a briefing at Cardiff Bay.

“We don’t have money to slosh around that we can use but I do think it is really important that we work with farmers so that they can understand the threats to their businesses.’’

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable claims to have seen internal Defra documents that explore the need to cull a third of sheep in the UK to stabilise prices in the event of a no deal Brexit.

Meanwhile, a Welsh Government-led report presented to the ministerial stakeholder group – representatives of the farming industry including unions – has demonstrated that it is not just the sheep sector that could be in crisis.

The geographical location of farms in Wales will be influential to the scale of the impact on different sectors, the modelling work has shown.

“It is very confidential work but I think it will be very useful going forward for our contingency planning,’’ said Ms Griffiths.

She denied that the government was not being open about the contingency plans with stakeholders.

“It is not being done behind closed doors, of course all will be involved. We shared information with the stakeholders last week, the farming unions were there so they have seen the work we are doing to move forward with those plans.’’

During the briefing, it was revealed that Welsh beef and sheep farmers have turned their backs on thousands of pounds of funding that could potentially have improved the technical and financial performance of their businesses.

The Welsh Government had allocated around £2.15m from its EU Transition Fund for 2000 Welsh red meat producers to benchmark their performance to prepare for Brexit - but Wales’ rural affairs secretary has revealed that only 1600 signed up.

Lesley Griffiths suggested farmers could be “burying their heads in the sand’’ about Brexit.

When she launched the scheme last October she described it as a “crucial investment for the sector at this difficult and challenging time’’.

During the recent briefing, Ms Griffiths said the response had been disappointing.

“Having done a similar piece of work with the Welsh dairy sector I hoped and expected that the scheme would be over-subscribed,’’ she admitted.

“Maybe farmers are benchmarking anyway but I am a bit concerned that some of them are not going to be as ready as they could be (for Brexit).’’