Lamb future brightens as values firm
FARMERS have been encouraged by recent buoyancy in spring lamb prices.
Mondays average at livestock marts was 130p/kg lw, steady on the week. But values are still a long way behind last year and a million miles away from two years ago, when demand was riding high on the back of the BSE-related backlash against beef.
Lake District farmer John Geldard puts the drop on 1997 and 1996 at about £20 and £40 a head respectively. He has now sold most of the early lambs from his Kendal farm – typically at about 132p/kg. "Like the cattle we bought in the autumn, we wont be sad to see the last of them go."
There has, however, been a recent upturn, says Mr Geldard, with some last week making 149p/kg. "We were lucky – we just caught the market right. But this is where it should be to make a reasonable return."
The 36-39kg sorts are most sought after. "If animals are offered at this weight, rather than at 42kg, it will take a big tonnage of the market. The best way to drive the market down is, after all, to flood it with extra weight."
Cornish farmer Jeremy Hosking, who has cleared about half of his early lamb crop, made 280p/kg dw this week. He doesnt see values changing much in the next month and, in this situation, its important for farmers to look at costs – principally feed and labour, he advises.
"But Im not too unhappy with this season: We have had more grass – and fed less concentrates – than last year."
This is a sentiment echoed by auctioneers. At Truro, Cornwall, Bob Mosley says: "If farmers are getting, say, £45 a head, thats respectable – even though £50 would be nice. At least there is a margin at these levels – which is currently debatable with cattle."
John Martin, who farms near Belfast, recognises the high-cost nature of the system. "But finishing some on a forage rape catch crop enables the farm to carry more sheep than would otherwise be the case."
A batch sold by Mr Martin recently made 280p/kg dw – but the price has come down since then and will continue to as more are finished, he says. Its all a far cry from the 1996 season when lambs were approaching the £100 a head-mark, he adds.
Opinion among auctioneers, meanwhile, remains split as to where values will go next. "Its all looking a lot brighter – and not all the big buyers are on lamb yet," says Gavin Loynes at Gloucester.
But Maurice Wall, auctioneer at Highbridge, Somerset, is less bullish. Stock is finishing pretty well, despite the recent adverse weather – so supplies will soon build. "I dont see the trade going up from where it is."
The hogget trade, meanwhile, remains buoyant, with Mondays average of 106p/kg at Highbridge only 24p/kg behind the lambs.
With farmers anxious over the dentition SRM rules, marketing has been rapid over the past few weeks. "People that bought them as stores, and are facing big losses, are sick and tired of them," says Mr Wall. *