5 September 1997

Lamb flood has not hit mart prices

By Tim Relf

LAMB prices were steady early this week, despite the big flush hitting markets on Monday.

The average value in England and Wales sample marts was just under 114p/kg lw.

But some now fear volatility will become a feature, as the backlog is sold. And one of the first signs of this could have come on Monday, when numbers were up over 50% compared with the previous week.

Auctioneer Richard Morris at Lazonby, Cumbria says plentiful grass supplies have encouraged farmers to delay selling lambs.

"From Caithness to Canterbury, its the same: Theres no pressure to sell," says Mr Morris.

Meat and Livestock Comm-ission figures show that for much of August, throughputs were 15% lower than at the same timein 1996. It was a similar story between April and July, when numbers were nearly 10% down.

MLCs Sally Doyle says while theres been lots of grass, weather conditions havent been ideal and stock hasnt been finishing too well.

Shift back to selling animals

"As harvest ends, farmers attention will shift back to selling animals – and if sudden clumps hit the market, prices will be volatile."

Availability could also rise with the live export trade accounting for fewer this year, she says. Sterlings strength has been a big factor in this.

Offsetting this, however, could be high retentions this autumn, as farmers – confident in the future of the sheep business – hang on to stock, she says.

But Ian Smethurst, auctioneer at Banbury, says live exporters are still doing a "useful job in taking the lighter lambs off the market". Welsh hill lambs, for example, have been heading for France and Spain. And the trade overall remains "unusually buoyant", says Mr Smethurst.

Exeter auctioneer Alan Venner expects prices to stay firm in the autumn.

Strong store lamb prices have prompted farmers to sell some of those under, say, 38kg as stores, rather than fat, he adds.