Lamb prices slide and slide again – FWi REVIEW OF 199

December, 1997

Compiled by FWi staff

Lamb prices started the year at their
highest levels for some time. But after March, they began a decline that
has yet to show signs of stopping. Farmers appeared to pay over the odds
for stores and then found little room for profit this autumn.


  • Buoyant demand for
    sheep meat means record prices for cull ewes, which average £43
    (light) and £56 (heavy) nation-wide. Finished lambs sell at more
    than 150p/kg, according to Meat and Livestock Commission statistics.

  • Exports boost old season lamb prices, despite Sterlings
    strength. In the last week of January, sheepmeat exports total
    2,450 t, 10% up on the same week in 1996. But unfavourable exchange
    rates lower the price of light lambs which drop by 12p/kg.


  • Overall averages in
    first week of February in England and Wales are 142.89p/kg – up 1.71p/kg
    on the week and 10.49p/kg up on the year.

  • Higher lamb prices and a 7% drop in sheep annual premiums will
    force hill farmers to intensify their operations, says Scottish
    Agricultural College economist, Stuart Ashworth. But increasing the
    volume of lamb could trigger lower prices and higher subsidies, setting
    of a cycle that benefits nobody, he warns.


  • Lamb prices begin
    their traditional pre-Easter rise but seem likely to level out well
    below the 1996 BSE-induced peak of over 190p/kg. The strength of
    Sterling makes it difficult for exporting abattoirs to profitably
    exploit firm markets in northern Europe.

  • Best Easter lambs sell
    for well over 200p/kg, with a marked premium for lighter lambs in some
    areas. At Worcester, auctioneer Clive Roads says the handy-weights are
    making up to 20p/kg more than heavy lambs. Top price is 215p/kg.


  • New season lamb drops
    by 17p/kg to 145p/kg. Farmers and abattoirs blame retailers who, they
    say, are securing supplies from New Zealand. The slow take-up prompts
    farmers to delay selling stock, resulting in over-heavy animals, say
    auctioneers. But prices could steady if lamb quality improves.


  • Sterlings strength continues to hamper lamb exports.
    Finished lamb prices are pegged-back well under last years record
    levels. Values at auction struggle to climb above 115p/kg, compared with
    138p/kg this time in 1996.


  • Lamb prices plunge as
    plentiful supplies come forward and hit a difficult market. Average
    values fall 14p in one week to 106p/kg. Marketings increase by 21% as
    farmers finish hay- and silage-making and re-focus on selling stock.


  • Farmers bid hard for
    store lambs, forcing prices up. At many auctions, prices are higher than
    last year as many producers prepare to winter sheep rather than cattle.


  • Store lambs values
    continue to hit record levels, prompting some to question whether buyers
    are pricing themselves out of a profit. Average store prices are well
    over £40/hd. But finished lambs are struggling to top 100p/kg.
    Buyers, it appears, are banking on price rises in the autumn and winter.


  • Despite a big
    flush of lambs hitting the market, prices remain steady. Increased
    exports have boosted returns, say auctioneers, with 50 lorries leaving
    Dover every week. The average value in England and Wales is just under
    114p/kg. But some analysts fear the market will become more volatile as
    the back-log of lambs is sold.


  • Estimates
    indicate slaughterings over the past three months are well down on 1996.
    This has been a difficult year and there may well be a lot of lambs to
    come, according to Jane Harrold of the Meadow Valley Livestock marketing
    group, Stratford-upon-Avon.

  • The Meat & Livestock Commission also
    expects slaughter numbers to rocket between November and the end of the
    season. The number of lambs waiting to come onto the market appears to
    be “significantly up” on 1996 – possibly by as much as 17% for the time
    of year, the MLC reports.


  • Lamb prices fall to
    less than 97.8p/kg, fuelled by fears of traffic chaos caused by the
    French lorry-drivers strike. The strike has come at the worst possible
    time of year, says Shrewsbury auctioneer Peter Willcock.

  • More
    lambs will be held back in the face of the problems, Mr Willcock adds.
    But exactly how many will depend on farmers nerve and forage

  • Export of sheep carcasses to France so far in 1997
    are 15% down on the corresponding period last year.


  • Prices continue to
    suffer from the strength of Sterling and a high proportion of
    heavyweight lambs being sold through auctions.

  • By 7 December,
    markets across England and Wales were averaging less than 93p/kg –
    leaving values about two-thirds of those seen a year ago and almost
    60p/kg down since the start of the year

  • Producers blame the
    strength of Sterling which is now worth more than 10 francs and almost 3

  • A relatively large carryover of hoggets into the
    new year will continue the pressure on prices, forecasts MLC economist
    Tony Fowler.

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