By Ian Ashbridge

HOGGET VALUES have firmed by 2-3p/kg this week, as demand from butchers and wholesalers helped drive the trade for heavier types, which look good value for money at 100-105p/kg.

Farmers have held off marketing hoggets this spring, hoping prices would lift and allowing them to recoup some of the cost of last autumn”s stores. But most hoggets are now too heavy to attract supermarket buyers, say traders.

John Dracup, procurement manager for St Merryn Meats, said processors would continue to handle hoggets for some weeks, but weight classes were presenting a problem for plants.

 “It”s always more difficult to procure better types at this time of year. Our customers are looking for lambs between 16 and 21kg, and in fat classes 2 or 3L. Many producers have hung on to store lambs for too long.”

 Auctioneer Brian Pile, of Thrapston market in Northants, said there was a “tremendous amount” of heavy hoggets about. “Butchers will have driven the trade firmer on these heavier types. The supermarkets can”t adjust easily to heavier carcasses, and hoggets will have looked very good value to butchers. The lighter types that are around are making 112-120p/kg.”

Plentiful supplies of New Zealand sheep meat had meant some processors had stopped handling domestic hoggets, he added.

And poor demand from France, one of Britain”s biggest export customers, hasn”t helped the trade. Liveweight values are still 22-24p/kg below the same time last year, while deadweight prices are adrift by about 30p/kg.

Jane Connor, economic analyst at the Meat and Livestock Commission, said French lamb prices were much lower than a year ago, as economic worries meant French consumers were spending less on meat in general.

And it was likely more of the total import tonnage was now chilled rather than frozen sheepmeat, said Mrs Connor. “Import volumes are fairly high.”

Bernie Hutchinson, auctioneer at Market Drayton in Shropshire, was hopeful a weaker pound against the euro would make British imports more attractive to Continental buyers. “A lot still depends on the export trade and currency values, but trade is definitely slightly stronger across the board.

 “But it will be interesting to see what spring lamb numbers will do to the market. If numbers grow quickly, it could have a knock-on effect on the hogget trade. The early Easter this year might make some farmers market them early.”

MLC figures for Mon, Mar 14, showed that of the 13,300 old season lambs sold through auction marts on the day, nearly 9000 were in Medium (39-45.5kg) or Heavy (45.6-52kg) weight classes. Monday”s SQQ average price for England and Wales climbed 1.43p to 113.6p/kg.

ian.ashbridge@rbi.co.uk