The current lamb crop is expected to be smaller than forecast at the start of the year, helping to maintain the relatively strong finished lamb market through the remainder of this season and into 2011, despite any dampening of consumer demand as prices stay relatively high and national austerity measures take effect.
This is the upbeat assessment of the latest market outlook from EBLEX, the industry body for beef and lamb levy payers in England, following detailed evaluation of the December agricultural survey results, lambing rates, trade figures and other key market influences.
Interestingly, the December survey only showed an annual contraction of around one percent in the national breeding flock, indicating a more marked slowing than expected in the rate of decline from the 5% fall recorded the year before. Indeed, the 2010 survey is expected to show almost no change in overall flock numbers, as producers take confidence from the better market conditions of late, and the introduction of EID has far less than impact initially feared. What is more, the breeding flock is considered likely to remain stable through 2011.
With this stabilisation and the generally younger flocks resulting from relatively high rates of culling over the past two years, culling rates are anticipated to fall noticeably to around 13% in 2010 and stay at this level going into 2011.
Together with lower lambing rates under the harsher than normal conditions of last winter, the reduction in culling is forecast to lead overall domestic sheepmeat production to be down by around 8% on 2009 to around 278,000 tonnes - nearly twice the annual decline foreseen earlier in the year - and remain around this level in 2011 as the national flock stabilises.
At the same time, annual import volumes are down by more than 12% this year - mainly due to a rebuilding of New Zealand flocks following recent droughts. They are not expected to show any recovery over the remainder of the season and are only forecast to increase slightly in 2011.
With fewer lambs projected to be produced in both France and Ireland, in particular, tight supplies in the main European markets are also likely to ensure export demand continues to be firm too, despite the recent strengthening of sterling against the euro.
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