The traditional increase in lambs on the market at this time of year, accompanied by a lift in carcase weights, is understandably starting to impact on lamb prices, according to the latest analysis by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).
Historically, October is the month with the highest weekly kill of prime lambs in the UK and as the peak selling period approaches, producer prices are running at around 140 p/kg lwt, approximately 10p/kg lwt (6-7%) below last year.
Compared with 2014, the volume of lambs reaching the market has, notwithstanding the moving date of Muslim festivals, been running slightly ahead. A further feature of the current market, observed Mr Ashworth, has been an increase in carcase weights.
“During September, for example, Scottish abattoirs handled three per cent more prime lambs than last year and their carcase weights were 0.25kg heavier than last year,” said Mr Ashworth.
“Between June and September UK abattoirs handled five per cent more lambs and five per cent fewer cull sheep than last year and produced seven per cent more sheepmeat.”
The Scottish and UK market has therefore been better supplied with sheepmeat than last year and the trend looks on course to continue into October.
Ireland has also seen prime lamb supplies running ahead of last year over the June to August period. There, too, there has been a reduction in mature sheep slaughterings resulting in Irish sheepmeat supplies running some 1.2% higher over the June to August period. More recent information, however, shows Irish marketings of lambs during October have dipped below last year’s levels.
In other parts of Europe the sheepmeat market has seen volumes decline, said Mr Ashworth.
“Spanish slaughter volumes, for example, have been running lower than last year - a continuation of a trend that has been in play for five years. Similarly in France sheep slaughterings so far this year have been 2.5% lower than last year although in August the kill was higher than last year,” he said.
Despite the fall in production, France has imported six per cent less sheepmeat between January and July. The biggest loser here has been Ireland, said Mr Ashworth, as the UK supplied slightly more than last year taking a greater share of the market.
French producers who had been struggling to match last year’s prices for much of June, July and August have seen some improvement in September and are currently receiving prices around 1.5% higher than last year.
“Following the weakening of Sterling over the past month the current Scottish price, when adjusted for exchange rate, is only around one per cent higher than it was last year when quoted in Euro, while the Irish price is 2.5% higher. UK processors are therefore remaining competitive in the French market,” stated Mr Ashworth.
“Furthermore, the decline in sheep numbers in many parts of the world, including Australia and New Zealand, along with the re-opening of some Chinese tanneries following investments to manage their environmental impact has led to some strengthening in the sheepskin market. These factors combine to offer support for the current producer price.”