5 February 1999

Hoggets set to stay in doldrums…

By FWreporters

DONT expect any sudden upturn in hogget prices, with sterling still strong and exporters facing problems in traditional markets.

That was one of the messages to come from the Meat and Livestock Commissions Outlook conference in London last Wednesday.

Sheepmeat exports, while likely to top 100,000t this year, are still well below the 1995 peak of 140,000t. "But everything that goes abroad helps the home trade," said MLC economist Leslie Green.

Pressure will also be felt from the big numbers in the pipeline, with 900,000 more hoggets expected to hit the market in the Jan-Mar period than in 1997.

But Brian Pack, chief executive of Aberdeen and Northern Marts, reckons the MLC have overestimated last years lamb crop and the carryover of hoggs into the spring.

Speaking to the North of Scotland Texel Club last week, Mr

Pack said this – together with an improving trade for skins – should lead to an improving market.

"

Tight supplies

We are not convinced these lambs are there and all indications are that supplies are tight, certainly in this part of the country," he said. "I suspect the statistics dont fully reflect the lower numbers born and higher-than-usual mortality rates caused by the wet weather last spring."

The down-side was continuing difficulties in exports to France because of the strength of sterling. "The strong £ and a strong nationalistic streak in the French is leading them to eat cheap, home-produced pigmeat rather than Irish beef or British lamb."

The introduction of full traceability for lamb in France had also eliminated the traditional practice of importing UK lambs and selling them as French-killed.

"French producers are earning the highest prices in Europe for lamb, beef, and pigmeat because of their rigorous traceability and their success in persuading consumers to buy home-produced product. Perhaps we have something to learn from the French in this respect," said Mr Pack.

It is "disappointing", said Mr Pack, that on the home market only 59% of lambs in the 16-20kg weight range meet the market requirement for leanness and conformation. "Farmers must harness modern breeding techniques, including the use of superior rams, to improve standards," he said.

And he called for a greater price differential between 3L and 3H grades. "The current gap is not enough to stop too many over-fat lambs reaching abattoirs. Buyers are having to secure too many lambs to get enough of the right specification," he said.

Perkier trade in dairy stock

DAIRY STOCK prices have moved up with limited numbers on offer.

Auctioneer Terry Hamlin puts the increase at £100/head compared with last autumn. And the average price at Exeter, Devon, last Friday – with the better heifers making £700 to £800 – was the highest for about six months, he says.

"There were more people around the dairy ring than we have seen for several months. People are chasing milk to fill quota."

Limited numbers are available and this could continue into the spring, with fewer dairy dispersals likely than last year, says Mr Hamlin.

David Millard, auctioneer at Frome, Somerset, thinks there are fewer dispersals in the pipeline. "Many of the farmers who were going to give up have already done so; and those that are staying in will probably expand."

The effect is to put the better-quality heifers at £700 to £800 in the weekly sale, says Mr Millard. The best cows can still make £550 to £600. "But if a cow has got a high cell count, there is no sale for that at all."

Supplies are lower than usual, agrees Barry Colton at Hallworthy, Cornwall. And prices have risen about £100 for the best heifers over the last four weeks, he says.

"Anyone who sees themselves still milking in 10 years time needs more cows."

Straw is still hitting roof

STRAW prices are hitting the highs as the wet weather continues.

"The highest price I have ever seen," says auctioneer John Farrall at Chelford, Cheshire. His comments come after Mondays auction where small-baled wheat straw made to £77/t and averaged £63/t.

"The mucky weather is not helping and any signs of spring are a long way off."

A lot of straw was, however, bought off-the-field last harvest, says Mr Farrall. "Those people that did buy it then are probably glad they did."

Among other livestock producers, however, there is a "hand-to-mouth" approach. And such people could find themselves facing an increasing shortage as the winter unfolds, he suggests.

At Carlisle, Cumbria, auctioneer Robert Hamilton saw barley and wheat straw sell to £76 and £57/t respectively on Monday. "The weather is so damp that cattle take twice the amount of bedding to keep them dry."

The bigger bales – as well as the small ones – are attracting a strong demand, he says. "If the quality is right, people will find a way of working with them."

SALES DIARY

FEB 5 Sale of store and breeding cattle, plus young feeding bulls. Penrith, Cumbria. Penrith, Farmers & Kidds (01768-862323)

FEB 6 Sale of machinery and equipment. Thornton Curtis, Lincs. DDM (01652-653669)

FEB 6 Monthly sale of 300 breeding cattle, feeding bulls and store cattle. Bentham, North Yorks. Richard Turner & Son (01524-261444)

FEB 8 Sale of machinery and equipment. Ely, Cambs. Cheffins Grain & Comins (01353-777767)

FEB 9 Dispersal of 91 Holsteins and MRI x Holsteins. Plus 256,400 litres used milk quota. Taunton, Somerset. Greenslade Taylor Hunt (01935-423474)

FEB 9 Machinery sale. Stanton, Suffolk. Lacy Scott & Knight (01284-763531)

FEB 9 Sale of 500 Continental cross store cattle. Kington, Herefordshire. McCartneys (01584-872251)

FEB 9 Milk quota auction. Taunton, Somerset. Greenslade Taylor Hunt (01823-334466)

FEB 10 Sale of machinery and equipment from 5000 acre arable unit. Swinderby, Lincs. JH Walter (01522-526526)

FEB 11 Sale of store cattle. Liskeard, Cornwall. Kivells (01579-345543)

FEB 11 Dispersal of 76 Holstein Friesian dairy cattle. Lewes, East Sussex. Hobbs Parker (01233-502222)

FEB 11 Plant and equipment disposal, including 40 dumpers. Reading, Berks. Thimbleby & Shorland (0118-950 8611)

FEB 11 Mid-month sale of dairy stock. Crewe, Cheshire. Wright-Manley (01270-250500)

FEB 12 Sale of galvanised metal market penning, plus scales, gates and pens. Kidderminster, Worcs. Halls (01562-820880)

FEB 12 Limousin cattle show and sale. Carlisle, Cumbria. Harrison & Hetherington (01228-590490)