Exports of UK sheep meat increased significantly last year, helped by rapidly rising demand from emerging markets in Asia and West Africa and growing markets in Europe, latest figures from EBLEX reveal.

UK farmers were well-placed to take advantage of these markets, said Jean-Pierre Garnier, export manager at EBLEX.

Total volume of shipments increased 12% to 84,599 tonnes between January to October 2013 on the year before, and the value rose 10%, with the EU remaining the largest export market at 70,643 tonnes.

Demand from Hong Kong increased by 144% to 10,141 tonnes between January and October 2013 to the previous year, while exports to Ghana rose 77% to 726 tonnes. The Russian market was also opening up.

Exports were expected to rise again this year, although at a lower rate due to the limits of the UK sheep population, he said.

“Put more sheep on the land and we will sell them,” said Mr Garnier. “This is a message I consistently say to British farmers. There is a shortage of sheep meat worldwide.”

Other export markets expected to open up in the future were the US and the Middle East, said Mr Garnier. Both offered large opportunities for UK sheep meat, although the Middle East was difficult to crack, due to less focus on quality, which the UK excelled at.

Exports accounted for over one third of the UK sheep market, so were an important factor in determining farm gate prices, said Paul Heyhoe, senior analyst at EBLEX, although the domestic market played a larger role.

Prices were stabilising after peaking last week at 187p/kg live-weight then fell to 176p/kg on Monday. Values were unlikely to increase until the seasonal peak of Easter, said Mr Heihoe. The first half of this year was likely to experience a tight supply, he added.

Prices had firmed up but were now slipping, said Greg Mowbary, trading director at Meadow Foods.

The strength of the pound compared to the euro combined with France’s poor financial performance, was keeping export prices below that of the domestic retailer market.

Supplies of hoggets were getting tighter, following the UK lamb population going for slaughter earlier than usual.

“The outlook for UK sheep farmers is positive- while there has been a reduction in ewes, prices are more competitive and efforts to reposition lamb and get it back on the menu have done well,” said Mr Mowbary.

Throughput at Ashford market was 20% higher towards the end of last year compared to the previous year, said Elwyn Davies, auctioneer at Hobs Parker. Current price was 20p higher and supply as likely to tighten in the first third of the year.

“We’ve got less in the system to come in and if demand improves, the chances are prices will firm up for the next few months,” he said.

Total UK sheep meat exports Jan-Oct 2013

Country

Tonnes exported

World

84599

EU total

70,643

France

44616

Hong Kong

10141

Germany

8245

Belgium

5460

Ireland

4175

(Source: HMRC, supplied by EBLEX)