Sheep and lambs in a field© Tim Scrivener

Falling domestic sheepmeat consumption and increasing production make exports more important than ever.

AHDB’s sheep market outlook, released this week, says although the downward trend in sheepmeat consumption is slowing, production is forecast to be higher this year and for the next three years.

With this potential for increased pressure on the sheep industry, it will become crucial to ensure lambs are within spec when coming forwards and that cost management remains a high priority, says the report.

See also: Prospects for the UK meat industry post Brexit

With export markets often expecting consistency, it warns the UK sheep industry may need to adapt and explore the consumer demands of other countries to better deliver a high-value, profitable product.

It also points out the uncertainty about the effect the UK’s departure from the EU could have on the sheep sector and highlights a worst-case scenario modelled for Defra, which suggests a drop of up to 30% in sheepmeat production.

Sheep highlights

  • June census shows a 2% rise in UK sheep breeding flock – the highest level since 2006
  • 17.2 million lambs less than one year old on farm on 1 June – the highest number since 2005
  • UK exports are higher so far this year compared with 2016, forecast to remain strong provided sterling stays weak
  • Imports are lower due to strong NZ dollar and high NZ domestic prices
  • Almost 8% fewer new-season lambs sold at auction in January-September than the same period last year – potential for more lambs to be carried over into the new year than last season

Actual and forecast supplies of sheepmeat in the UK

(000 tonnes)

2016

2017(f)

2018(f)

2019(f)

2020(f)

Production

287

302

312

313

307

Imports

109

91

90

85

83

Exports

82

93

106

109

107

Total consumption

314

301

295

288

282

Totals may not sum due to rounding, (f) = forecast. Source: Defra, HMRC, AHDB