29 March 1996

Sharp rise for pigs and sheep

By Tim Relf

PORK and sheepmeat prices are climbing as consumers replace beef dropped from shopping lists.

"The dearest trade I have ever seen," says auctioneer Gavin Loynes of Mondays hogget and spring lamb prices at Gloucester.

An underlying shortage, strong export demand and a switch in abattoirs attention from beef to sheep helped the 1700 hoggets average 177p/kg and the 210 spring lambs, 203p/kg.

"Beef prices are volatile in a downward direction; sheep prices are volatile in an upward way," says Mr Loynes.

"If there hasnt already been a shift in consumer demand, the trade is certainly expecting it," comments auctioneer Richard Grainger, who sells at Hereford. Some beef-only abattoirs have shut temporarily, he says. And some multi-species plants are sourcing more sheep to keep throughput up.

"Producers are treating the good hogget prices as a bonus. And this is fair enough, because a lot of them are not going to get much of a bonus from their beef. But the sheep numbers just arent there," adds Mr Grainger. MLC national statistics confirm this, showing a year-on-year drop of 8% in hogget marketings in the first half of March.

The hogget standard quality quotation (SQQ) rose 11.55p/kg on Monday to reach nearly 166p/kg.

Pig producers have seen a similar situation, with this weeks early markets showing sharp price rises. MLC sample markets show an average price on Monday of 124.52p/ kg, up over 16p/kg on the week.

At Wickham, Suffolk, auctioneer Peter Crichton says increased demand from abattoirs is particularly noticeable among the heavier pigs. Baconers averaged 117p/kg on Monday, porkers 123p/kg and cutters 121.4p/kg. "We are now getting into price levels which will attract imports," cautions Mr Crichton.

Further north the price hike was even more marked. At Hull, for example, Monday saw a 27p/kg rise on the week taking the cutter average to 135.7p/kg. Baconers levelled 135.2p/kg. And at York on the same day, pigs reached a top price of 140p/kg; one week earlier, the highest bid had been 125p/kg.

"It is marvellous that the pig producers are receiving back some of what they have lost in the past. But for it to happen at the expense of the beef producer is something everyone is very sorry about," says York auctioneer Nigel Stephenson.

There has been definite product substitution, agrees Tony Fowler of the MLC. But after the 1990 BSE scare, lamb and pork consumption rose, only to fall back to its previous level a few months later, he points out. &#42