12 September 1997

Prices gain from export

demand…

By Tim Relf

INCREASING export demand is boosting lamb prices, which averaged over 114p/kg on Monday.

Live exports, although only accounting for a small proportion of the 40% of sheepmeat which goes abroad, have been increasing. Recent reports point to 50-plus lorries leaving Dover each week, compared with only a dozen or so last month.

David Croston of the Meat and Livestock Commission says the Spanish market has become more attractive in terms of price.

The Italians, with their own market in deficit, have also been desperate for lambs. As a result, sheep have been exported from Britain, then slaughtered elsewhere, before heading to Italy. This circumvents – perfectly legally – the Italian sheep health control requirements, says Mr Croston.

UK demand has also strengthened. "September is often seen as a good time to buy lambs – theyre coming off grass, theyre nice and tasty and consumers see the price as low relative to what it might be at Christmas."

David Probert, auctioneer at Hereford says it was carcass export orders that boosted demand on Monday, taking the average price to nearly 122p/kg.

Plenty of lambs at 40kg liveweight, that would kill-out at about 45%, were 125p/kg lw.

The ideal product is a carcass of no more than 18kg deadweight, of R conformation or better.

"As always, the less fat, the better," says Mr Probert. But over-fatness has not been a problem this year. If anything, its been under-finish thats been more the issue. Everywhere theres been a lot of grass – but its been wet grass and some lambs just havent done."

Once the frosts hit the grass, farmers will be keen to sell stock and there could be a surge in marketings. And values could slip a little, before settling again, he reckons.

Mr Probert agrees the live export trade, although having been in stop-go mode, has put the edge on trade just recently.

Alan Horine of Edward Hamer International says although sterling has eased in value – it was worth 9.64FFr on Monday – its strength is still a big problem for exporters.The prospects for hill farmers planning to market stock over the next couple of months arent great, he says.

"The weather will begin to deteriorate and they will have to sell them. Up in the hills, its already distinctly autumnal. Go up there in a months time and itll be winter."n