Prime lamb prices are edging higher in the run-up to Christmas, even as markets see a surge in throughputs.
The average GB SQQ lifted 4.71p/kg in the week to Tuesday (29 November) to 172.68p/kg, despite a 36.5% increase in numbers to 95,830, according to AHDB figures.
Auctioneers and marketing groups said farmers hampered by wet weather last week were now bringing lambs forward, while good prices were encouraging finishers to sell a little earlier than usual.
Marketing group Farm Stock, whose members predominantly cover the central belt of Scotland, said abattoirs were left short of sheep last week after bad weather prevented farmers accessing fields.
Although demand from processors was mixed, supply was now more evenly matching demand, said Jonny Williams, the company’s livestock procurement officer.
However, while some producers had got lambs through a month earlier than usual, others were waiting for prices to improve, he said.
The group was now looking for light lambs to meet demand from continental buyers, expected to run for the next 10 days, added David Marshall, operations manager.
At the beginning of this week, most GB markets saw an increase in throughputs of SQQ lambs, with varying effects on price.
At Bakewell on Monday, throughputs were up nearly 11% on the previous week to 1,057. Prices dipped 2.7p/kg to 174.1p/kg.
The same day, more than 4,000 SQQ lambs at Welshpool helped push throughputs up 44%, and prices down 3.3p/kg at 163.2p/kg.
On Tuesday, Ashford market in Kent saw throughputs of SQQ prime lambs increase 76% on the week to 1,088, although much of this was due to a large show that day, said John Rossiter, auctioneer at Hobbs Parker.
Lambs from specialist finishers around the country were now starting to come through, he said.
“It’s a bit early for them – normally trade at this time of year would not encourage them to sell [but prices are] 22p/kg up on last year.”
This £10/head difference had held steady for the past three months, due to the weak pound and a limited supply of heavier, well-finished lambs resulting from dry weather.
“As long as numbers stay level the price will probably be maintained, but if lots more come forward then it could have an effect,” he added.
Supermarket buyers were however more active, said Tom Wrench, auctioneer at Rugby, Warwickshire.
“With the festive demand, [buyers] are all looking for legs of lamb and suddenly there is a bit more trade.”
Lower numbers of lambs had come forward since June, said Mark Kozlowski, senior analyst at AHDB and the UK breeding flock was also bigger, suggesting more lambs were waiting to come through.
There had been a drop-off in UK retail demand in the past three to four months, possibly due to higher prices in store, he added, while exports were down 17% on the year in September, although the HMRC data was questionable.
He expected prices to improve in the run-up to Christmas as demand for all meat increased and the French market was also better.