21 December 2001

Abattoirs go on a lamb search as surplus ends

THE 1.5m lamb surplus predicted by the Meat and Livestock Commission when export markets closed has disappeared and many abattoirs now report a shortage.

Jane Connor, the MLCs senior economic analyst for the sheep sector, told the Welsh Sheep Strategy conference at Aberystwyth that she could only account for 1m of the predicted surplus lambs.

The missing 500,000 could be the result of some producers holding back lambs longer than normal and domestic lamb consumption having risen by 8% in the 12 weeks to Nov 11. It was also possible that more than the estimated 0.2m lambs could have gone on the welfare disposal scheme.

Mrs Connor also acknowledged that extra female lambs had been retained for breeding. On the best available figures she calculated that up to 5000t of lamb could be exported in the first quarter of 2002 before a shortage occurred.

Assuming a 14 to 16% cut in the breeding flock and some improvement in lambing rate, she predicted that 12.7m lambs would be slaughtered in 2002 and, if domestic consumption stayed at 193,000t, about 37,000t could be exported.

"French demand in particular is strong, though trade could be clouded by the SRM issue," claimed Mrs Connor. "Demand from other markets like Belgium and Germany is likely to be keen, but the trade view is that exports will only really get going from June." &#42