The exceptional increase in domestic sheep meat supplies that
contributed to the downward pressure on lamb and cull ewe prices
over the past year look set to be reversed in 2006, providing
the prospect of better new season returns for English
This is the encouraging outlook from the English Beef & Lamb
Executive (EBLEX) in its latest annual market forecast. It is
however stressed that the extent to which prices respond will
be determined by carcase quality, competition from chilled imports,
export opportunities and the state of the skin market.
Good lambing percentages and lamb survival rates together with lower ewe lamb
retentions for breeding led to a 4% year-on-year increase in total lamb slaughterings
in 2005 to over 13.5 million. At the same time, ewe and ram slaughterings at
just over 2 million were 10% up on the previous year. As a result overall sheep
meat production was nearly 4% higher than 2004 at an estimated 317,000 tonnes.
The higher culling rates and lower ewe lamb retentions of 2005 is expected to
leave a national flock going into the 2006 season some 200,000 down on last year
at around 16.1 million ewes. There is also the likelihood of a slightly lower
lambing rate, based on initial scanning reports from across the country. This
leads to clean sheep slaughterings for 2006 forecast to be back down to a level
of just over 13 million.
Although a further modest contraction in the national breeding
flock to 16 million by the end of 2006 is anticipated, lower
culling rates are expected which could bring cull ewe and ram
slaughterings back down to 2004 levels. Total UK sheep meat production
in the coming season is, consequently, likely to be down by around
5% to just over 300,000 tonnes - or around the level of
Coupled with the increases of 2% in domestic lamb consumption and over 2% in
export volumes recorded in 2005, this bodes well for a better balance between
supply and demand over the coming season.
While the overall market essentials are set fair, producers are
advised not to expect early new season lamb prices, in particular,
akin to 2003 levels. The growth in chilled lamb imports that
has resulted in a significantly flatter monthly pricing curve
over the past two seasons - with both the level and duration
of peak prices markedly lower than traditionally received - is
expected to continue.
At the same time, the skin market which can have a major influence on overall
market prices remains depressed and is considered unlikely to show much in the
way of sustained recovery.
Under these circumstances, EBLEX urges English producers to focus
their main 2006 season efforts on maximising returns by marketing
a steady supply of finished lambs off pasture at the specific
carcase qualities and weights required by the main market outlets - and,
most importantly, at the least possible cost. Detailed production
guidance is available in the Lamb Action for Profit resource
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