Industry leaders remain optimistic about a positive trade future post-Brexit following a year of strong livestock prices.
Speaking at the Harrison and Hetherington (H&H) Fit for the Future seminar on Tuesday (December 1), H&H joint managing director Scott Donaldson said he was confident the beef trade will remain buoyant post-Brexit.
Mr Donaldson said: “UK beef trade has been through peaks and troughs in the last five years and, while it dipped due to Covid-19, it has stayed strong since April.
“Despite a decline in suckler herd numbers in the last two years, it is in a strong position going forward, especially with the prospect of less Irish beef as import and export conditions change.”
But he was unsure recent confidence in the lamb market would be sustained in 2021, with potential tariffs impacting demand.
Phil Stocker, National Sheep Association chief executive, highlighted import and export volumes were down by 7 per cent (45,650 tonnes shipped weight) and 9 per cent (62,800t) respectively this year to date, while productivity levels remained fairly consistent.
He said: “This suggests domestic sales have been strong and we have seen positive prices for new season lamb in the last nine months.
“It is a surprise to see store lamb prices still remain high, given what is around the corner in terms of uncertainty about the sheep meat market, but we are seeing more lambs finished, suggesting many farmers will not bring as many lambs forward in January.”
Mr Donaldson added that there has been a large number of lambs gone lightweight to Southern Europe in the last six weeks, taking those store lambs typically finished in early spring out of the system.
He said: “Farmers are likely to see more level trading in the next three four months as a result.”
While Mr Stocker remained positive about the sheep meat market, he added it is clear the sector will face some disruption regardless of deal or no deal with all the uncertainty around EHCs, health marks, freedom of movement and potential backlog of products.
Mr Donaldson also warned consumers could trade down on protein if the economy plunges into the abyss with business closures and recessions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.