Prices for store lambs and breeding ewes are flying at UK marts, with producers confident in the future, despite storm clouds gathering on the horizon
Farmers are feeling optimistic on the back of high prime lamb prices, with prime cattle and pig markets also well up on last year.
It comes despite consumers tightening their belts as the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic hits and the potential disruption to exports at the end of the Brexit transition period in January.
Lawrie and Symington auctioneer Archie Hamilton said prime lambs had eased a little this week, with a lot more sheep coming forward as farmers looked to take advantage of a good market.
But he added buyers were looking for those with a good amount of meat on.
“There are some coming forward that are just lean. They are making the weight, but buyers want them well-fleshed,” he added.
Rugby Mart auctioneer Martin Lloyd said there was a lot of confidence in the store lamb trade ‘rightly or wrongly’, with farmers having more money in their pocket from the prime sheep sales.
“This is as well as having an easier year, grass-wise,” he said.
And Brexit did not seem to be on the mind of buyers for store lambs or breeding ewes, with Sedgemoor auctioneer Paul Ashton saying buyers were competing for every size of lamb.
“There is confidence the sheep trade is going to be fine next year, but we just do not know,” he said.
“Breeding trade is phenomenal. I have never seen prices like we have had this year.”
George Purves, managing director of United Auctions, said prices had remained strong.
“With more or less the whole population living and even holidaying at home the demand for meat has gone up,” he said, adding export markets would be the same.
“Food is one of the few pleasures people have at the moment and for most people meat is at the centre of most enjoyable meals.”
Mr Purves said numbers had been strong with the flexibility of the auction encouraging sellers to use marts.
“While lambs have been dearer the meat has never been more affordable as holidays and high days have been off the cards for most,” he added.
“Sellers have been relieved that prices for sheep and cattle have improved and have been a tonic with everything else that we all have to deal with.”
This summer has been marked by strong beef and lamb prices, with Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) highlighting the current average prime cattle price was 15p/kg above the five-year average and Welsh prime lamb liveweight prices at auction were still above £2/kg.
Pig prices have seen two months of decline from their peak but remained 8.9p/kg higher than the same time last year.
HCC data analyst Glesni Phillips said retail demand had been strong on the back of marketing campaigns to try recipes with red meat.
And European exports had picked up as foodservice businesses reopened with less competition from the Southern Hemisphere.
As the furlough scheme ends and job security fears rise, cash-strapped consumers are switching to own label produce, buying on promotions or turning to cheaper stores.
Grace Randall, AHDB consumer insight analyst, said money saving behaviours could hold opportunities to position certain products.
This includes fresh and chilled products as people cook from scratch and frozen and products packaged to extend shelf life as consumers look to cut waste.
“It is also important to remember while price is important, it is not the only influencer of choice and needs to be balanced with other drivers, such as versatility, taste and convenience,” Ms Randall added.