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Stackyard News Aug 06

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Forecast Suggests Continued Lamb Market Strength

All the indications are that the market for English lamb will remain strong for at least the remainder of 2006 - providing the normal autumn and winter marketing pattern can be maintained in the light of the cold spring and summer drought.


beltex lambs

This encouraging forecast is from the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX) in its latest quarterly assessment of past, present and future sheepmeat supply and demand.

Behind the fairly disappointing prices of 2005 were substantial increases in the annual GB slaughterings of both lambs and cull ewes – up about 7% (870,000 lambs) and 13% (252,000 ewes) respectively. At the same time, an 18% increase in chilled lamb imports in the second half of the year added to the supply problem with only a strong export performance helping to maintain prices.

While increased domestic supplies and a higher level of chilled imports through January and February this year kept lamb prices disappointingly down on the previous year, a strong domestic retail market and higher export demand resulting from the Continental bird flu scare led to a recovery from March. Since then average weekly prime lamb prices have continued to be between 20p/kg and 40p/kg higher than last year.

There is scope to maintain such price differentials. This is based on the expectation that domestic and export demand will remain strong, along with the effects of the lower ewe flock recorded in the December 2005 census and slightly lower lambing rates of the past spring restricting supplies. This will be especially true if the hot dry summer leads to lambs being finished at lighter weights.

Cold spring weather checked early lamb growth and the dry weather now poses a possibility of delayed marketing which could lead to heavier marketing of lambs above the normal profile in late autumn/early winter which would put downward pressure on prices.

EBLEX stresses the key to maintaining prices comfortably above 2005 levels for the remainder of the year is to avoid a late glut and ensure a steady flow of lambs from this autumn.

To achieve this producers are advised to monitor lamb condition and growth rates carefully and consider additional supplementary feeding to finish as many as possible ahead of the autumn peak in marketing. This will also reduce any excessive carryover of old season lambs onto the spring market which could otherwise undermine early 2007 prices.

Such changes should, however, only be made by producers following proper assessments of their likely costs as well as benefits, based on realistic price assumptions and growth targets.

Up-to-date guidance on finishing and marketing lambs for the best returns can be obtained from EBLEX Sheep Better Returns Programme manuals and Action for Profit factsheets available free of charge to English levy payers at

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