Snowfalls push lamb prices up
By James Garner
LAMB prices jumped up last week following a festive splattering of snow across the UK that disrupted farmers plans to ferry animals to market.
Trade on the short Christmas week peaked with some averages topping 100p/kg on Thursday and Friday. But industry pundits are quick to warn that this is a poor week to judge.
It consisted of only two main trading days and just 81 markets reported, about half the normal number, says the Meat and Livestock Commission.
Even so experts predict that the bullish trend, evident in the lamb market since the BSE scandal broke on the Continent, may remain strong, particularly as new MAFF figures indicate a lower carry over of lambs than previously expected.
According to the MLCs senior economist Lesley Green, MAFFs final June census figures for England and Wales show a much larger contraction in the sheep sector than previously thought.
Provisional estimates predicted the breeding flock would show a small drop of about 0.4%, but this has been revised to show a 4.8% contraction on the year.
Lamb numbers are also down, she says, with figures suggesting there are 5.5% fewer lambs under one year old on farms in June than the year before.
This has forced Mrs Green to revise the MLCs forecast, which predicted that more lambs would be carried forward in to this year than last year, because of slow marketings in the wet autumn.
Now she believes there will be a similar number of lambs running through to hoggets in the January to March period. (During the same period in 2000 3.57m lambs were marketed.)
Tighter supplies are also evident in auction markets, says Northamp-ton markets auctioneer Brian Pile, who is reasonably confident prices will hold up. "Lamb numbers are not over-plentiful, so my gut feeling is there will be a firm trade."
But he warns producers that buyers want well presented clean lambs, and anything else may be discounted.
Fewer lamb numbers may mean good values continue, and may even rise if export demand stays.
Early forecasts suggest this may be the case. Juliet Davies of HM Bennetts of Andover, Hants, says there are some big volume export orders for this week. "There is more demand than we formerly believed."
Demand is mainly from France, but the sheer size of orders means good margins for the short term.
"I think this will keep prices firm with the best export lambs keeping the market buoyant for at least another week."
There will be competition though and New Zealand chilled cuts are already on some supermarket shelves, says Meat New Zealands UK manager John Mabb. But Kiwi exports to the UK are likely to be similar to last year at 10,000t, he says.
"There will be no export drive. We will only sell what the supermarkets want." Neither will New Zealand product undercut UK lamb, as prices are set on a contract price negotiated last August and September, he adds. *
• Demand up.
• More exports to France.
• Supplies tight.