Seasonal trade gives lamb a lift
By Tim Relf
LAMB prices are set to rise over the next few weeks, as buyer interest grows and suppliers struggle to keep pace with the extra demand.
Prices jumped on Monday as the depleted Easter entry at markets averaged 131p/kg, up more than 8p/kg on the week.
Alan Venner, auctioneer at Exeter, Devon, is expecting a further upturn, as more supermarkets shift their focus from hoggets to new-season lambs.
At the same time, supplies wont be over-plentiful, with recent bad weather checking stocks progress. "Its not doing the lambs any favours at the moment," says Mr Venner.
Auctioneer Brian Pile at Banbury, Oxon, reckons what interest remains for hoggets will soon dwindle. And the number on offer over the next few weeks will dry up dramatically, as people "clear them out, come what may". Facing a possible £20 discount in value if they fall foul of the specified risk material dentition rules, farmers wont risk keeping too many, too long, he says.
Meanwhile, the offering of new-season lambs will increase only slowly – and prices could be heading toward a peak at the end of April or early May, reckons Mr Pile.
"Everyone says lamb is wanted for Easter – but its usually two or three weeks after that we see the best of the trade."
Duncan Sinclair of the Meat and Livestock Commission confirms big numbers of hoggets have already been marketed. In the first quarter of this year, 4.16m were slaughtered in the UK, compared with 3.32m in the corresponding period in 1997.
The early part of the year, meanwhile, also saw a 3% decline in the volume of chilled New Zealand lamb shipped into Britain, says the NZ Meat Board. The weaker British market has been more the result of the big supply of hoggets, low prices for other meats and the strong £s affect on exports, says a spokesman for the board.
The volume of NZ sheepmeat exported to the UK has fallen since the early 1970s, when it reached a peak of 300,000t a year. It now stands at about 110,000t, adds the board. *