Produce more lamb to meet ‘massive’ export demand

The UK should be producing more lamb to meet “massive” export demand.

Demand for sheepmeat far outstrips what we are able to export and we are losing export partners because of it, delegates at this week’s EBLEX annual conference were told.

Between January and August this year, exports rose by more than 15%, with almost all of the UK’s export partners buying more. In the first half of this year, the UK exported 65,582t of sheepmeat to the rest of the world.

Our biggest sheepmeat customer By far was France, which bought more than 50% – a total of 34,324t.

China increased its imports of UK sheepmeat by 231%, buying 7,856t in the first half of 2013, one-tenth of the amount exported. However, this was mostly large-volume, low-value products such as offal.

Other areas where large improvements were made were Norway and the Netherlands, with the former open to buying throughout a larger window and the latter after some marketing effort. However, these countries were responsible for less than 10% of purchases.

Anecdotally, many countries were struggling to source enough product, said EBLEX export manager Jean Pierre Garnier, and the UK was short-supplying some markets, including Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

In an email Mr Garnier received in June, one importer described the situation. “For your information, we have major difficulties with English suppliers. They do not respect their commitments [on volumes] which puts us in a very difficult situation with our clients… This is very demotivating,” the email said.

Volume of production was the key issue blocking “massive” opportunities for the UK, said Mr Garnier.

However, he said it was a fallacy that keeping the market short would lead to higher prices. Price was one of the main barriers for export.

High prices had cost the UK a lot of customers in the spring, he said, but he hoped this was only temporary and they would be back next year.

“Keeping the market short is not a solution. We need to produce more lamb,” he said.

Lamb outlook 

Nick Allen, EBLEX sector director, said the outlook for lamb was positive.

This included:

  • Global sheepmeat production behind demand, with the gap set to continue at least until 2018
  • Retail lamb sales up 15% during the first half of 2013
  • Deadweight prices are following 2011 pattern. If they continue to do so they could reach 470p/kg in late November to early December
  • Liveweight finished lamb prices are also rising. They could hit 210p/kg near this time if they continue to stick to the 2011 pattern

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