20 June 1997

Sterlings no help to sheep

STERLING isnt doing sheep farmers any favours this year.

Figures from the Meat and Livestock Commission show sheepmeat exports to other EU countries totalled 1520t in the first week in June, a drop of 800t (35%) on the same period in 1996.

Meanwhile with the chilled New Zealand season closing, estimates put this years total imports at nearly 10,000t, up about 20% on last year.

EU-wide, the total amount of chilled product is likely to approach 20,000t, compared with 16,500t in 1996.

And while more is likely to come to the UK next year, no big rise is expected, stresses John Mabb of the New Zealand Meat Producers Board.

"Theres no point in us bringing it here, without it having a home."

It is, says Mr Mabb, GBs worsened trade position in the face of currency movements and the lack of the same BSE knock-on effect – rather than New Zealand imports – that have kept lamb values below those of 12 months ago.

"Consumers have returned to the beef market – and been looking for options to lamb, such as pork and poultry."

UK farmers and auctioneers disagree. In the heart of early-lambing country at Exeter, auctioneer Alan Venner points the finger at chilled New Zealand product for depressing early-season prices.

Part of the reason, he says, is that buyers reacted against the high prices of home-killed lamb last year.

Dafydd Owen of the NFU says it is "harsh" for farmers, when they have been market orientated and produced a required commodity, to find that a premium is deprived from them.

"Many of the beef producers who are having an extremely rough time at present are relying on their sheep enterprise to keep them afloat."

&#8226 Lamb prices showed some signs of recovery early this week. Mondays average was 117p/kg, up 6p on the week.n