2 January, 1998

By FW reporters

DOWNWARD pressure on prices will be a major talking point among sheep producers this January as the market is hit by an expected backlog of animals kept by farmers hoping for price improvements.

Over the coming three months, 600,000 more hoggets could be marketed than in the corresponding period of 1997. Thats nearly a 20% increase. And some of them will be over-heavy and over-fat.

But the advice from the Meat and Livestock Commission is simple: sell them as soon as they are fit and ready. Delaying could mean bigger losses.

Stock cleanliness will be another big issue, particularly on traditional finishing systems such as roots. But its one well worth concentrating on because, dirty sheep are likely to be discounted or unsaleable.

Overall, this year is likely to see prices below those of 1997 which, in turn, was a disappointing one for farmers compared with 1996. This is likely to be reflected in the traditional spring peak in trade, which could struggle to reach 1995s 120p/kg.

On the supply side, clean sheep slaughterings are expected to hit 16.35 million in the coming 12 months, an increase of 7%. This reflects a small expansion of the breeding flock, a fall in live lamb exports and slightly reduced ewe lamb retentions.

Ewe and ram slaughterings, however, will fall another 4%, after a 20% drop in 1997.

Sheepmeat consumption, meanwhile, is expected to remain steady, after its 5% drop in 1997. But with this sector recently in the headlines over a possible BSE link, and Brussels angling towards the removal of spinal columns from older animals, sheep farmers will be entering the new year in a justifiably nervous mood.

Producers should not that tighter Specified Risk Material control measures for lambs over 12-months old came into effect on January 1, following suggestions of a link between BSE and sheep. With dentition the means of ageing stock, those sold with erupted incisors could be discounted because of the additional costs involved, the MLC warns.