Store lambs down but still too high

By Tim Relf

SHEEP farmers are still paying too much for store lambs, despite fears that the strong Pound and a resurgence in New Zealand imports could again undermine finished lamb prices later in the season.

Store lambs are currently making about £10 less than last summer at £30 – but according to some people even that is too much.

Prices are dangerously high, said East Anglian sheep finisher Andrew Foulds.

“Some people have pretty short memories,” he said, referring to the collapse in finished lamb prices earlier this year. “People must not forget that although they have plenty of grass, we could all be on a hiding to nothing.”

Analysts say the store trade could develop into a two-tier market, with longer-keep stores in less demand. If that happens and prices fall, farmers with store sheep might gain better returns by selling sooner rather than later.

Sellers, meanwhile, are less than pleased.

“Obviously disappointing,” said Kent farmer Trevor Richards, after the batch he sold recently at Ashford made £7/head less than a year ago.

“Its about what we budgeted for, though,” said Mr Richards. “Considering the losses some people made last year, its not surprising stores are making less. They have probably been too dear for the last few years.”

Howard Bates, another Kent farmer who sold at Ashford, has a similar view. Mr Bates recently sold a batch of Texel-cross sheep for £32.40/head.

“Its what people were expecting,” he said. “A lot of people lost a cartload of money on hogget fattening in the spring.”

Ashford auctioneer Elwyn Davies said the stores on offer are of poorer quality than those of 12 months ago. Farmers, he said, have slaughtered the more-forward ones in the face of the relatively-buoyant finished prices.

“Store buyers are cautious – but there is plenty of grass,” he said.

Unfortunately, though, isnt finishing as well as last year because much of this seasons grass is of poor quality, said National Sheep Association chief executive John Thorley.

And besides, plentiful supplies of grass shouldnt, in itself, justify paying big money for stores. But as Andrew Foulds said: “A lot of farmers would rather waste money than grass.”

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