By Simon Wragg
A DIP in pig prices gave cause for concern over Easter. While spot prices have recovered, auctioneers say further increases may encourage imports.
Recent trade at Selby, Yorks, saw pig prices bounce back by 4p/kg to reach 70p/kg liveweight, reports auctioneer Chris Clubley. This was welcomed by hard-pressed producers. "But I fear further increases may be capped. "The strength of sterling and availability of imports is likely to kick in at these prices," he warns.
Rugby-based auctioneer Graham Young agrees, adding that differences between processor contract prices and spot markets was creating further uncertainty. Despite this, trade for the entry of 400 pigs was strong last Monday at Rugby with porkers hitting 76p/kg liveweight and bacon pigs in at 70p/kg.
According to MLCs senior economic analyst Tony Fowler, the Easter price dip only had a minor affect on the AESA figure. This fell by 0.28p to 80.21p/kg deadweight last week. Prospects for a recovery and further increases looks likely.
Domestic supplies remain tight following last years fall in the UK sow herd. Pigs marketed have fallen by 40,000 from the end of last year to 280,000 a week at present. A further fall of 20,000 pigs a week is expected by the last quarter of this year, according to MLC figures.
Mr Fowler adds: "Theres some truth that availability of imports may cap prices, but if buyers commitment to source high welfare domestic supplies holds true, theres potential to maintain prices over EU averages." *
Lambs prop up hogget prices
LOW numbers of new season lambs coming forward are helping prop up hogget prices at up to £1/kg liveweight. Auctioneers expect this to continue throughout April.
Oswestry-based auctioneer John Brereton blames the lack of new season lamb coming forward on a combination of poor prospects last year and the poor weather this year. "Theyve lacked sun on their backs to bring them on," says Mr Brereton.
While new season lamb has been selling at an average of £1.42/kg liveweight, buyers are reluctant to switch over until numbers pick up.
MLC figures suggest just 12,000 were marketed live in the week prior to farmers weekly going to press. "As soon as the number of new season lambs rises, buyers will be waiting," says Mr Brereton.
Abattoir deadweight trade is also static. Procurement manager John Bailey of Cullompton-based Lloyd Maunder says sales of new season lamb havent kicked in. "Demand from retailers isnt there and it could be three to four weeks before trade in new supplies takes over."
Supplies of new season lamb over Easter were reaching £3/kg deadweight for 15-18kg carcasses, but with limited supplies and low demand, thats now come back to £2.60/kg, explains Mr Bailey.
For the immediate future hogget prospects look good. While poor weather is suppressing new season supplies, it hasnt hindered hogget sales by increasing risk of dirty fleeces.
Yorks-based auctioneer Chris Clubley has seen hoggets finished off stubble turnips and sugar beet tops from local arable units continue to clear between 98-100p/kg liveweight. "Rejections for dirty fleeces are few and far between," he reports. Overall, prospects have been better for lamb finishers this season, adds Mr Clubley. "They bought well last year and theyll have some margin left if prices hold."
MLCs sheep analyst Lesley Green expects demand for hoggets to continue and reports the latest average GB price was 98.64p/kg. With numbers coming forward still rising – liveweight sales are up 16% on the previous week – pressure for hoggets to be marketed before new season sales begin in earnest is mounting.
• New season lamb prices at Kendal touched 162p/kg for Suffolk crosses on Monday. Further south at Crewe prices averaged 124p/kg. The new season SQQ was 130p/kg – down almost 23p/kg, reports MLC. *
INTEREST in ewes with lambs has picked up as the spring progresses.
Young units can make more than £35/life, says Alan Venner at Exeter market, Devon. Full-mouth ewes can top £30/life.
The buoyant finished lamb trade has given people more optimism, says Mr Venner. And some of the early-bought ewes and lambs have proved to be a good investment. "If you got a unit for, say, £50 in November, the lamb might make again now when its slaughtered. That means you got the ewe for nothing."
Outfits are grossing from £40 to £80, says Brian Pile at Northampton mart. Farmers, keen to fill their quota allocation, are looking to replace barren ewes. "At last its beginning to look green and at last the stock outside is looking happier," says Mr Pile. "But theres a tremendous price difference between the best and the worst ewes and lambs." *
Michael Joyce takes bids for fodder at E Dyke & Sons dispersal at Longhill Farm, Ditcheat, Somerset, last week. The 160t of 1998 maize silage made £2480. The event saw Holstein Friesian cows top at 880gns, averaging £550, report auctioneers Cooper & Tanner.
• UK EXPORTS of sheepmeat are down by 25% for the first three months of this year, according to a report from the Irish Food Board.
The drop in sales – including new season lamb – remained unconfirmed by MLC as FARMERS WEEKLY went to press. Abattoirs supplying the export trade report a notable decline in sales.
John Bailey of Devon-based Lloyd Maunder – which exports lamb carcasses to France – says trade has slowed due to better supplies in destination markets. Also, despite cuts in UK interest rates, sterling remains strong.