Despite a slightly larger UK flock and increased lamb availability from New Zealand, the latest annual outlook from EBLEX foresees the 2012 market remaining strong, albeit unlikely to hit some of the heights of 2011.
Final results from the June survey showed a 1% year-on-year increase in breeding ewe numbers in 2011 to just under 14.9 million and, with the optimism generated by increased market returns, the December survey is expected to show further growth in 2011 and 2012.
Although below the levels recorded since the de-coupling of subsidies, culling rates are also forecast to remain relatively high in 2012 as producers take advantage of continuing high cull ewe and prime lamb prices. This will restrict flock growth to well below what may otherwise be the case.
With ewe condition at tupping reported to be good, the very mild early winter and good feed availability in most regions, scanning rates have generally been better than last season and higher lambing percentages are predicted. Along with the slightly larger flock, this is anticipated to result in the largest lamb crop since 2008, although still some way short of that peak in production as a result of lower store lamb carryover and mutton levels. However, it is too early to determine what the impact of the Schmallenberg virus will be on the lamb crop. As an emerging disease everyone is monitoring its effects with concern.
Overall, domestic sheepmeat production in 2012 is forecast to be slightly higher than in 2011. A considerable recovery in New Zealand lamb exports is also likely to impact the 2012 market. After a 10% drop in their lamb crop 2010/11, the latest figures show a 7% increase over the past season. This, and better forward planning by processors, is set to lead to an increase in volumes, particularly in the build-up to Easter.
Even so, a return to the New Zealand export levels seen up to 2009 is considered highly improbable. This, and the growing importance of a range of other markets to the country, is forecast to keep shipments to Europe as a whole and the UK in particular below historic levels.
At the same time, European sheepmeat production is expected to decline. With further growth in exports to non-EU markets as well as the near-Continent, the stage is set for a robust UK export trade to underpin domestic markets.
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