5 December 1997

How much further can lamb fall?

By Tim Relf

FARMERS have been left wondering how much further lamb prices can fall, after another 6p/kg drop early this week.

England and Wales markets averaged under 93p/kg on Monday, leaving values about two-thirds of those seen a year ago.

Most are blaming the strong £ sterling which, on Monday, was worth more than 10 francs and was almost 3 deutschmarks.

"Its completely destroying export opportunities," says auctioneer John Uffold at Ludlow, Shropshire.

Adam Day, who sells at Cockermouth, Cumbria, points the finger in the same direction. While currency movements are taking their toll, the lighter lambs suitable for overseas markets are still generating the most demand, points out Mr Day. Those weighing about 40kg, at about £42 apiece, are worth as much as the 48kg ones.

And theres been no shortage of these big, over-finished animals this season, as a result of the mild autumn.

Die in debt

A lot of lambs were also bought out of the finished ring as 35-38kg stores in the summer – and these are now being killed. But with slaughter prices as they currently are, such stock will probably make a loss. "Die in debt", as Mr Day puts it.

At Bridgnorth mart in Shropshire, auctioneer Robin Nettleton describes Mondays auction as "difficult". Overall average there was 92p/kg. "Things get very difficult with lambs over 41kg," says Mr Nettleton.

In addition to the unfavourable exchange rates, New Zealand supplies are taking their toll.

Supermarkets, says Mr Nettleton, learnt their lesson last year and have made arrangements to bring in New Zealand supplies. "Theyre not going to get caught with their trousers down again."

About the only positive factor at the moment is the cold weather, which could turn consumers attention to red meat and hot food, says Mr Nettleton.

But this weeks sudden cold and wet snap will mean farmers have to be extra vigilant about ensuring stock sold is clean when sent for sale, he warns.n