14 May 1999

Sheep number up 6.5%

SHEEP production is set to rise significantly, but the hope is that more even marketing should avoid a repeat of last autumns disastrous price crash.

Overall production is expected to rise by 6.5%. Assuming live exports continue to grow, UK clean sheep slaughterings in the 1999/2000 season will rise by 1.6% to 16.8m head, Lesley Green, a senior economic analyst at MLC, told a Welsh Sheep Strategy conference at Aberystwyth this week. Ewe and ram killings will increase from 2m to 2.5m head.

But the strength of sterling, competition with cheap pork on the French market and the continuing resistance to British meat in some countries means export tonnage is expected to increase only marginally to 98,000t. However, imports should fall by 11,000t.

This means that supplies available for domestic consumption could be up by 6000t to 391,000t, the highest total since 1991, said Ms Green.

The impact on farmgate price of lambs is very difficult to predict. Prospects for recovery of skin prices are poor, but pork prices may rise and beef supplies could tighten. With a more even pattern of lamb marketing throughout the year prices should not reach the lows of last autumn, when a combination of factors proved to be "a recipe for disaster".