New season lamb drops by 17p/kg
By Tim Relf
NEW-SEASON lamb prices have plummeted, with Mondays 145p/kg average marking a 17p/kg drop on the previous week.
The fall has come as more lambs arrive in markets, at a time when the major retailers are not yet buying.
John Kearns, export manager with south-west abattoir Lloyd Maunder, says with New Zealand product available, there is no pressure on retailers to source UK lamb.
And the fixing of New Zealand prices in the autumn, compared to the volatile values of home-killed supplies, is a big plus-point for retailers, he points out.
This slow take-up by UK buyers has prompted farmers to delay selling stock, resulting in a few over-heavy animals. Mr Kearns would still rather buy carcasses under, rather than over, 20kg.
Truro auctioneer Jim Large says the young, fresh lambs can make up to 10p/kg more than the older ones which have "lost their bloom".
He, like others, was taken by surprise by the recent fall in the trade. But the best still made £66 at Truro last week, with the general run of 36kg-38kg animals in the low to mid £50s.
Prices could steady, however, if lamb quality improves. "This might happen when the animals that have grown through the fresher weather are presented," says Mr Large.
"The switch of big retailers to buying lambs could also help prices," he adds.
Meanwhile, New Zealand is spending about £1.5m promoting its product.
Imports of chilled product look set to rise on the 1996 total of just over 8000t. And last year, New Zealand filled its total sheepmeat export quota to the UK of nearly 227,000t.
But John Mabb of the New Zealand Meat Producers Board denies claims that New Zealand is flooding the market. "There is always a lot of rubbish talked about how New Zealand undercuts UK prices.
"Importers wont bring it in unless they have a contract; they certainly cant afford to bring it in speculatively, and job it around the market."
But an ASDA spokesperson said last week the store was offering chilled New Zealand legs and shoulders at about 50p/kg cheaper than the British items.
The firm has not yet started buying any UK new-season lamb – but expects to begin in about a fortnight.