Strong domestic demand and increasing export volumes means more
encouraging 2006/7 prospects for English sheep producers than
was forecast at the start of the year, according to the latest
quarterly outlook from the English Beef & Lamb Executive
(EBLEX). However the late, cold spring could delay the flow of
some new season lambs onto the market and competition from chilled
imports remains a significant threat.
EBLEX stresses that it is important to market lambs when they
are fit for market because both the home and export trade increasingly
have specific requirements which need to be met to maximise returns.
In the first full year of decoupled payments the December 2005 census reveals
the UK sheep breeding flock declined by over 4% to 15.6 million ewes, with cull
ewe and ram slaughterings up by more than 14% on 2004. Coupled with good lambing
percentages and lamb survival rates, this pushed annual UK sheepmeat production
up by over 5.5% in the year to an estimated 323,000 tonnes
At the same time, the census results show the number of ewe lambs put to the
ram declining by more than 9% nationally and around 3% in England from 2004 to
2005. This follows a fall of 16% and 11% respectively the previous year, underlining
the extent to which headage payments previously encouraged flock numbers to be
With lambing rates down on last year, the cold spring likely to have some impact
on lamb survival, and lower ewe and ram cullings almost inevitable, EBLEX foresees
annual UK sheepmeat production falling by around 5% in 2006, bringing it back
to 2004 levels.
Encouragingly, consumer survey data shows a robust domestic market, with UK retail
sales of fresh and frozen sheepmeat up by more than 2% in 2005.
Despite challenging overseas market conditions too, UK exports forged ahead in
the latter half of the year, in particular, volumes rising by nearly 13,000 tonnes*
(17.3%) to end 2005 at just under 87,000 tonnes. This was primarily due
to an increase in the penetration of the smaller Italian and Belgian markets
following targeted marketing drives, and modest additional growth is expected
in the coming season. Recent consumer scares over avian flu in France have strengthened
sheepmeat demand in this major market.
Furthermore, less Irish sheepmeat is likely to be available which will also have
a positive impact on anticipated imports, as will the current relative attractiveness
of far eastern and other European markets to New Zealand exporters. As a result,
UK import volumes in 2006 are expected to continue to remain at around 120,000
tonnes - about 10% below 2004 levels.
Providing chilled New Zealand imports do not impact the market any further than
in recent years, EBLEX believes that some of the very welcome UK market price
improvements of the past few weeks could well be sustained.
* all weights are carcase weight equivalent
Annual Quality Hat-trick for English
No Dragons For Saint George!
Advantage of Cull Ewe Marketing Seasonality