The English sheep industry needs to plan ahead at all levels to
make the very most of growing lamb export opportunities over the
coming season following the disaster of FMD last autumn, suggests
the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX).
With over 30% of annual UK lamb meat production typically being
exported, overseas customers are second only to domestic multiple
retailers in their importance to the industry. What is more, the
greater flexibility of export markets to absorb extra lamb makes
them particularly significant during the autumn peak of supplies
when they can account for up to 40% of national production, helping
to underpin farmgate prices.
Under these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that FMD restrictions,
which enabled just 16% of UK-produced lamb to be exported during
the peak lamb season from August-November last year, coincided
with the most disappointing market prices for many years.
In the absence of further disease problems lamb exports are expected
to recover from 70,000 tonnes in 2007 to 78,000 tonnes in 2008,
helped by a relative weakness of sterling and decreasing production
in most other EU countries. Indeed, increased export demand is
almost certainly playing a significant part in the recent marked
upturn in lamb prices.
To ensure these opportunities are fully realised over the peak
supply season will, however, require concerted efforts from all
sides of the industry. Especially so in the face of growing competition
from chilled New Zealand imports and falling lamb consumption in
the UK’s single most important export market – France.
To help boost consumption of lamb in the French market, which has
declined by 27% in volume since 2001, EBLEX together with Interbev
(France) and Bord Bia (Eire) have launched a three-year campaign
under the theme of Agneau Presto (Quick Lamb).
At the same time, a series of initiatives is being undertaken by
EBLEX to develop new markets in Southern and Eastern Europe, North
Africa and the Far East, promoting the eating quality, meat percentage
and availability of British lamb. And ‘fifth quarter’ markets
for offal are also being successfully extended in a growing number
of European and Asian countries.
While the UK is increasingly looking to export primal cuts in line
with the changing international market, the overwhelming proportion
of UK lambs will continue to be exported in carcase form. The key
requirement from producers is large batches of very consistent
There is a demand for a range of lambs of different confirmation
for the various export markets. Our core French export market prefers
lighter lambs than our domestic market which is good news for those
producers finishing at 18-19kg d/w. To make the most of export
opportunities, EBLEX strongly advises English producers with an
eye on export markets to enquire with their buyer as to the precise
specification required for the supply chain they are supplying.
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