Limited interest in the UK and EU market from New Zealand, coupled with tightening lamb supplies, could provide the building blocks to support the prime lamb market over the coming months.
But Brexit and the threat of an end to tariff-free access to the European market were still hanging over the marketplace, according to Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).
Prime lamb prices continued to trail last year’s by 8 per cent, although they were at similar levels to 2017.
The number of lambs slaughtered in the UK between May and the end of August was up nearly 5 per cent, reflecting the weather in 2018, with these extra volumes and higher carcase weights restraining prices.
But Stuart Ashworth, director of economics services with QMS, said the expectation was for a lower 2019 lamb crop on the back of a 3.9 per cent reduction in the breeding flock reported in December 2019.
He said: “Given the higher levels of lamb slaughterings so far this year, this would suggest a tightening of prime lamb supplies to come over the coming months.”
HMRC data showed a substantial reduction in New Zealand imports in the first seven months of 2019, as well as increases in UK exports, reducing the amount of sheepmeat on the home market.
“To achieve this growth, exports did need more competitive pricing and hence pressure on the farmgate price to balance the trade opportunity with the supply,” Mr Ashworth added.
And he expected New Zealand to continue to have limited interest in the UK and European market, as it turned its focus to China.
Initial expectations of the new lamb season in New Zealand had the breeding flock declining slightly, as would its lamb crop.
Chinese export sales have grown 18 per cent in the past year, while EU deliveries dropped 20 per cent.
“New Zealand’s third largest export market, the USA, has also seen growth in sales and of the highest value cuts, lamb racks,” Mr Ashworth said.
Added to the ‘confused state of Brexit’ this would limit New Zealand interest in the short-term.