Prime lamb prices have been hit hardest by the continuing disruption caused by foot and mouth disease, as the domestic market struggles to absorb large numbers of carcasses that would have been exported.

Some auctioneers have begun cancelling sales, telling vendors that prices were “disastrous”. Farmers posting on FW’s internet forums reported prices of just 60p/kg or £17 a head.

Auctioneers at Thrapston market in Northamptonshire scratched their weekly fixture, saying farmers could only expect finished lamb prices of 75-80p/kg while demand for cattle was limited and hauliers were struggling to make “meaningful” loads.

Newark market auctioneer Paul Gentry called the ban on exports “catastrophic”. “I’ve sold 300 lambs today, matching what buyers wanted to take, but if I’d had another hundred the job would have been very different.”

He urged farmers to hold on to stock despite the difficulties, to avoid selling at a loss.

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Up to 30% of lambs slaughtered in the autumn would have been exported, primarily to France, said Chris Dodds of the Livestock Auctioneers’ Association.

“Exports are a critical link in the chain at this time of year. Liveweight prices were between 95 and 99p/kg before the second foot and mouth outbreak, but on Monday were anywhere from 78-95p/kg,” he said.

“There is a backlog from last week plus export lambs while the regular supply of prime lambs continues to back up on farms. And lambs are getting heavier and fatter, with many over 46kg.”

Average deadweight prices for R3L lambs slipped again to 233p/kg last week, compared with 251p/kg this time last year.

Richard Phelps, of processor Southern Counties Fresh Foods, said his firm had worked hard to keep its prime lamb price the same as last week, but added that pressure was mounting on many in the processing sector.

“This is an industry with heavy overheads and reliance on throughput. Many abattoirs would rather close their doors for a couple of weeks and it’s possible some won’t open them again.”