THE PARTICULARLY stable outlook for English sheep producers originally predicted by the English Beef and Lamb Executive last spring is set to continue for the coming season, according to its latest forecasts. 

With the June Census results revealing virtually no change in the number of sheep on farm from 2003, EBLEX is expecting a total of 13.1 million lambs to be slaughtered in the UK as a whole this season; the number of lambs carried over into the first quarter of 2005 being broadly similar to the past year.

Despite similar levels of supplies, store lamb prices have been ahead of last year at most sales, although this may partly be a reflection of much better grass and forage supplies than at this time last year. 

Under these circumstances, and with New Year price levels notoriously difficult to predict, English finishers will need to be especially cost-conscious and make sure they market lambs as soon as a proper finish is achieved rather than holding onto them for too long and risking carcase weight and quality-related price penalties.

Looking ahead to 2005/6, a marginal increase in lamb supplies is forecast, mainly on the back of expectations of a better lambing rate next spring and less need for ewe lamb replacements.

As producers start to think about life under a reformed CAP, the UK breeding flock is expected to contract slightly – from its current level of 16.3 million to around 16.1 million.

Of this, the English breeding flock is likely to be slightly over 7.0 million head.
 
As far as the rest of the supply equation is concerned, based on trends seen so far this year, sheep meat imports for the current year will undoubtedly be up on 2003, and tonnages are forecast to remain relatively high in 2005 as well. 

Exchange rate movements combined with a flat French market will make further significant increases in export volumes unlikely both this year and next. 

Nevertheless, exports remain a vitally important component of the trade.  Indeed, in 2004 they are forecast to account for fully a quarter of UK sheep meat production.

UK Sheep meat Supply Forecasts  (MLC)

 

2003

2004
(forecast)

2005
(forecast)

Production  300,000 tonnes 302,000 tonnes 300,000 tonnes
Imports 127,000 tonnes 136,000 tonnes 134, 000 tonnes
Exports 77,000 tonnes 78,000 tonnes 77,000 tonnes
Consumption 350,000 tonnes 360,000 tonnes 357,000 tonnes