By Farmers Weekly staff
SHEEP and beef prospects look good, but pig numbers continue to decline despite a rally in prices, says the Meat & Livestock Commission in its latest Outlook reports.
Tighter supplies of sheepmeat are expected this year as the UK flock contracts again with a 2% fall in breeding ewes recorded in MAFFs December census.
MLC officials expect imports and exports to remain much as last year.
Ewe numbers are down to 19.9 million, helping account for a 10% fall in clean sheep slaughtering in the first three months of this year.
Consumption also fell by 4%. However, the improved live export trade last year (over 1.1m head) saw more lambs going to France and Spain.
In contrast, the number of cattle being slaughtered is expected to increase this summer as calves, which previously would have been removed through the calf processing aid scheme, emerge from yards.
Supplies could return to 1996 levels helping offset imports. These rose 5% last year to 143,300t – two-thirds coming from other EU countries.
Price prospects for beef stock remain good with UK intervention stores almost empty and consumption rising steadily.
However, current prices are slightly down on last year.
Pig producers will also be looking to maintain recent price increases.
The adjusted Eurospec average for GB is up markedly on previous weeks at about 92p/kg.
EU values are also firming, helping to reduce import pressure.
But a further fall in sow numbers is expected, warns the MLC.
Estimates put the breeding herd at just 650,000 sows, a fall which has cut weekly clean pig slaughtering this year by 12% compared with 1999.