14 February 1997

Exports boost old lamb prices

DESPITE the strength of sterling, sheepmeat exports – especially to France and Germany – are helping old season lamb prices.

In the week to Feb 1, sheepmeat exports totalled 2450t, 240t more than in the same week last year.

But trading light lambs in southern Europe is being hampered by a shortage of suitable animals, unfavourable exchange rates, new veterinary regulations and competition from locally-produced lamb.

These problems are affecting the price of superlight lambs, which averaged 12p/kg less than standards last week. Light sorts also sold for 5p/kg less than stan-dards.

"Both export and home market conditions are difficult for abattoir operators," says Alan Horrine, export director of Edward Hamer International, Powys.

"Margins have disappeared and the abattoir sector is, in effect, on hold, just servicing customers and waiting for the new season."

But the first heavy marketings of conventionally produced main lambs are still some months off. And claims that many more ewes than normal were tupped to produce early lamb are now being questioned.

Only 250 new season lambs were marketed last week. Information reaching the Meat and Livestock Commission indicates that the number of early lambs is unlikely to be much higher than last year and should not hit the price of 1996-born animals.

Last week the overall average in England and Wales was 142.89p/kg, up 1.71p/kg on the week, and 10.49p/kg on the same week last year.

"The final June census figures suggest there are probably fewer old season lambs in the pipeline than was indicated when we made our forecasts for the first quarter of the year," says MLC economist Duncan Sinclair.

"The Irish also have fewer lambs to export this year, which will help our exporters. At present there seems to be no reason why prices will not stay firm until the end of March."

Robert Davies