Exports hold up against strong £
STERLING may have reached record highs – but pork and sheep exports escaped virtually unscathed in the first six months of this year.
So reveals a Meat and Livestock Commissions survey, which shows sheepmeat deliveries to other EU countries just 5% down on the first half of 1996. In the case of pork, the volume rose nearly a fifth.
Demand for pigmeat was boosted as supplies tightened on the Continent following Classical Swine Fever outbreaks. Only last week, the EU agreed to part-fund the slaughter of another 3.4m Dutch pigs.
Lower domestic prices also helped maintain the trade, with farm-gate values well down on 1996 levels. Average spot values on Monday were 82.60p/kg, compared with over 106p/kg a year earlier.
This has made the British pig farmer a more competitive producer in Europe, says the MLCs Bent Windahl. "The slightly smaller size, and the leanness, of the cuts also makes the product unique," he adds.
As for sheepmeat, MLCs David Croston says: "Its been amazing we have been able to send as much abroad as we have, given the strength of sterling."
Since the spring, however, currency movements have hit businesses hard. On Monday, the £ was worth over 3DM and 10FFr, leaving livestock producers cautious about the outlook.
If there is no change, sheepmeat exports could be 10% down on last year, when the figure was 122,000t, says Mr Croston.
Helping demand EU-wide, however, has been the sales boost following the BSE crisis.
"There is still a high demand for a lean, high-quality lamb – and we are the recognised producer of that," adds Mr Croston.
Although the Irish are supplying the French market at present, as their supplies dry up in the autumn, British producers could fill this demand. "If, that is, the price ratio comes right."
According to auctioneer Robin Nettleton at Bridgnorth, Shropshire, stock is in short supply. The 715 forward at the mart on Monday represented half the number seen seven days earlier.
Farmers priorities are elsewhere – attending the Royal Welsh Show, cutting hay and combining corn, for example, says Mr Nettleton.
Bridgnorths 115p/kg average on Monday was 5p above the national average. Even with the difficult export conditions, prices are unlikely to fall below the 100p/kg-point this season, he predicts.
Supplies were also short at St Asaph, Clwyd, on Monday, according to auctioneer Wyn Morton.
But with exporters now getting loads together, light lambs were, for the first time, making a premium of about 6p/kg over the heavier ones, he said.
For beef farmers still facing an export ban, meanwhile, exchange rates have sucked in imports and put pressure on prices.
According to Intrastat, beef imports from other EU countries in April, at 6467t, were 45% up on 12 months earlier.n
UK exports: Jan-June
UK exports: Jan-June