For 140 years, until the introduction of the Fishery Conservation Zone in 1987, sheep farming and the export of wool provided the main base of the Islands economy.
Since 1987 the sale of fishing licences has become the major income source for the Islands. However, sheep farming remains the major form of land use. The soils of the Islands are acidic and infertile. These inherent difficulties, when coupled with a windy and cool oceanic climate, and added to the geographic isolation of the Falklands, have ensured that wool is still the main land based export.
Farmland extends to approximately 1,140,500 hectares and carries approximately 500,000 sheep and 5,000 cattle. Pre-1979 there were 36 farms in the Islands. However, as a result of Government policy to increase the number of locally owned and operated farms through sub-division of some of the larger ‘corporate farms’, there are now 84 farms. Most of these are run as family units with an average size of 10,000 hectares running 6,400 sheep.
In 1991, four large farms, equating to about 25% of the total farm land in the Islands, were purchased by the Falkland Islands Government from the Falkland Islands Company, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to agriculture in the Islands. The Falkland Landholdings Corporation was established as a statutory organisation to run these farms, which total 308,000 ha, with 150,000 sheep and approximately 1000 head of cattle.
The Islands average annual wool clip for 2010/11 was 1,600 tonnes (greasy) with an average fibre diameter of 24 micron. Sheep breeds are predominantly Polwarth and Corriedale. In 2005 an ongoing major ovine Embryo Transplant and Artificial Insemination programme was initiated, with the aim of speeding up the lowering of micron and improving meat carcasses in order to increase revenue to farmers. This includes introducing sheep breeds such as Dohne Merino and SAMMS (South African Mutton Merino) on farms.
In December 2002 the Islands newly constructed abattoir received accreditation to enable meat exports to the UK and Europe. Sand Bay Abattoir’s first production of sheep meat was exported to the UK in May 2003. In 2011 the meat from approximately 44,000 sheep and lambs was exported to the UK and into European markets.
In addition to the sheep improvement work, funds are available through the Department of Agriculture’s Farm Improvement Programme. Farmers are being encouraged to run their farms as profitable businesses that can compete on world markets and can enrol on the scheme if they can demonstrate a return on funds provided by the Government.
Farms in the Falkland Islands are extensively managed and lend themselves to the production of sheep meat, wool and beef grazed almost exclusively on natural pastures with very little use of synthetic chemicals or treatments. A number of farms in the Islands are designated as organic suppliers for their produce.
The main charter of the Department of Agriculture is to foster a viable and internationally competitive agricultural industry through integrated applied research, extension, business skill development and regulatory programmes. The Department also provides veterinary, quarantine and agricultural laboratory services to the Islands.
For more information visit www.fiagriculture.doa.gov.fk