31 May 1996

Big swings in lamb prices

HIGH but volatile. That is how auctioneers are describing this seasons lamb prices.

On Monday (May 20), the average stood at nearly 147p/kg. One week earlier, it was 140p/kg; 14 days before, it had been above 180p/kg. "That big drop in values (last week) came as abattoirs, increasing prime cattle slaughterings, cut down on sheep purchases," says Duncan Sinclair of the MLC. "Demand also fell as a result of the French bank holiday."

But strong home-demand continues to keep the trade firm, he says. Domestic consumption in the four weeks to May 5 was up 14% on last year.

The cold spring and lack of grass have also prompted some farmers to sell stock early, suggests Mr Sinclair.

Auctioneer Brian Pile at Banbury, Oxon, agrees. "With trade consistently above last years levels, farmers have been marketing lambs earlier to take advantage of the higher prices. About 10% of those entered are between 30kg and 32kg. Usually there are few at this weight, with the average at 36kg or 37kg."

Like most analysts, Mr Pile now expects values to fall season-ally. But, with many lambs having been sold earlier this year, tight supplies could underpin prices in the coming months.

But at Stratford-on-Avon, Warks – where Tuesdays entry averaged 140p/kg – auctioneer Bob Carr voices caution. "The really light weights just are not paying off. It is not worth farmers bringing them in under 32kg." &#42