Media Release: Increased prime lamb numbers lead to price tumble

Stuart Ashworth

PRIME lamb prices have fallen sharply over the past two weeks, reflecting increased numbers of lambs reaching the market, but remain fractionally above last year’s levels.

According to Stuart Ashworth, head of Economic Services with Quality Meat Scotland, auction market throughputs in Scotland last week were ten per cent higher than the previous week which had been ten per cent higher than the week before that.

Volumes are similar to those recorded a year ago and it is not just the GB market that is seeing a pick-up in prime lamb availability, said Mr Ashworth.

“In Ireland, abattoir throughput is reported to be ten per cent higher than this time last year. With more lambs available in Ireland, the cross-border trade from Northern Ireland has diminished and abattoirs in Northern Ireland reported throughputs some 80 per cent higher than last year during August,” he said.

So with UK and Irish markets currently well supplied with lambs, how long will these increased supplies continue?

“Is the increase a short-term phenomena and the consequence of a backlog of slower growing lambs as a result of poor weather reaching the market? Or is it a reflection of a greater number of lambs in the supply chain?,” asked Mr Ashworth.

“Although census data is not yet available from Wales and Scotland, provisional June census data for England and Northern Ireland reports 0.5 per cent and three per cent more lambs respectively.

“With Wales reporting an increase of five per cent in breeding ewes last December, it does seem likely, factoring in the smaller Scottish ewe flock in December, that across the UK as a whole the better supplied market is likely to last for a little while longer,” he observed

“Unlike the UK where lamb slaughterings were eight per cent lower than last year over the June to August period, Irish abattoirs killed eight per cent more lambs than last year. Their four per cent larger breeding ewe flock reported in December, points to their supplies continuing to run ahead of last year.

“From a consumers’ point of view the latest UK retail price information suggests lamb is becoming more competitive than it was last year,” said Mr Ashworth.

He continued: “The Office of National Statistics reports retail lamb price during August was one per cent lower than last year while beef has increased ten per cent and pork two per cent.

“Although lamb remains expensive in absolute terms, the increase in beef and pork prices compared to the small fall in lamb price puts lamb in a better relative position with its competitor meats.

“Market research data show some increase in consumer purchases of lamb in the four weeks to the end of the first week of August.

“However, while this is positive news, some of that growth has been in sales of leg joints which were heavily promoted as they had been proving hard to sell.”

The spokesperson added: “While the domestic market is showing some potential, the export market remains challenging.

“The strength of Sterling and lower production of lamb during July contributed to UK lamb exports falling over 20 per cent compared with the same month last year.

“Many industry commentators, both in the UK and New Zealand, describe the French market as very challenging at the moment.

“However, in contrast to the UK and Ireland, France and Spain expect production to decline during 2012 while Italy is forecasting unchanged production and many expect consumption in these countries to decline.

“The French are forecasting a decline of around two per cent in sheepmeat consumption during 2012 with a commensurate decline in requirements for imported product.”

Stuart concluded: “Looking at the overall sheepmeat scene heading into autumn, the UK market is finely balanced and slightly better supplied. There is some hope of better domestic demand as lamb becomes more competitive at retail level. However, the export market looks set to remain challenging.”

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Contact: Carol McLaren