By James Garner

NEW SEASON lamb prices have tumbled, dragged down by a sharp decline in hogget price and now plentiful supplies of January-born lambs.

And farmers left with any old-season lambs on-farm will do well to find a buyer.

Last weeks high of 285p/kg dw for this years lambs fell to 230p-250p/kg dw this week.

Jane Connor, sheep economist for the Meat and Livestock Commission, also reckons there are still “quite a few” hoggets available, which is not helping early lamb prices.

The trade has not yet been supported by retailers, with one insider saying the price was probably too high for supermarkets to start buying new season lamb in any quantity.

“Demand is not brilliant at the moment,” says Howard Judge, lamb buyer for Geo Adams, in Lincolnshire.

“Theres suddenly a flush of lambs about in the East Midlands. The trade will come – we have killed a few more lambs this week.”

Asda says it will not start buying new-season for another three to four weeks, depending on the weather and price.

Current retail trends suggest that lamb is not selling well because its too expensive.

“We could buy it, but Im not sure if we could sell it at its current price,” says a spokeswoman.

Looking further ahead, sheep meat production in the EU is set to drop, according to latest forecasts from Bord Bía, the Irish Food Board.

It predicts a decline in production during 2001 to just over 1m tonnes.

The biggest fall is expected in the UK, where production will fall to 205,000t, a drop of 26% because of foot-and-mouth.

Estimates suggest that the foot-and-mouth cull will account for up to 2.25m sheep, with another 1m to be slaughtered on the welfare disposal scheme.

Bord Bía says this will have a long term and immediate impact on the UK national flock with any recovery in numbers unlikely in 2002 as farmers keep more lambs for breeding.

Sheep meat consumption across the Continent will fall, too. Throughout the EU, analysts predict a 4% drop to 1.35m tonnes.

Other meat sectors remain under pressure. The shoulder market is still dragging down pig prices, because that cut is traditionally sold abroad.

Also cull sow numbers are building on-farm. Paul Cheale of Cheale Meats, estimates a current backlog of 40,000 sows.

Currently, sows are quoted at just 30p/kg, or 40 a pig, according to pig consultant Peter Crichton.

The recent cut in welfare payments to just 30 a sow means there is no alternative market.

This has prompted the National Pig Association to ask MAFF to install special market support measures that would push cull sow prices closer to the 100 mark.

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