Ulster Farmers Union has called on processors to pay a ’strong and stable’ price over the next few months after recent falls
In Wales, new season lamb numbers were up 22 per cent year-on -year between March and the end of June, according to figures from Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC).
English new season lambs were up 26 per cent as producers felt encouraged to sell earlier.
But lamb prices have fallen, with the Standard Quality Quotation (SQQ) for the week ending July 1 in Wales falling by 15p/kg at 207.5p/kg following ‘historic high levels’ in much of June. But this was still 19p/kg higher than in 2016.
John Richards, industry information executive at HCC said lamb prices had been boosted by weaker sterling which had helped bring better returns to exporters.
“We also saw less of last year’s lamb on the market during June which also helped the trade,” he said.
“The numbers of lambs sold weighing between 32-39kg increased by almost a third. The pattern is even more evident at English auction markets as reports show that throughputs were more than 50 per cent higher in this weight category than in the same four-month period last year.”
And demand was expected to increase as UK supermarkets switched to stocking British lamb with the export market expected to remain strong.
“These factors should have a positive impact on the market, however, as always, the supply of lambs will dictate price fluctuations,” he added.
“The coming month will give us a better understanding of the true market situation. Last year the market was significantly affected due to the EU referendum in late June which caused sterling to fall dramatically.”
At Scottish auctions, the increase in marketings has been significant, though slower than south of the border, according to Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).
Between early May and the first week of July, the total number of new season lambs sold rose by 9 per cent while the number of hoggs traded was up by 13.5 per cent year-on-year.
It also highlighted a higher proportion had fallen into the SQQ lambs, suggesting lambs were marketed earlier and lighter.
Iain Macdonald, senior economics analyst at QMS, said prices had dropped 14p/kg during the week ending July 5 to 211p/kg, but were 10 per cent up on last year.
“Looking at the terms of trade, as well as a weak sterling, farmgate prices have firmed in the key export market of France, while imports from New Zealand have fallen sharply and remain significantly more expensive than last year,” he added.
Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) has called on processors to continue to pay a ‘strong, stable’ price if they wanted to receive a consistent ‘in-spec’ lamb supply as Northern Irish prices fell sharply.
There was ‘no reason’ processors could not deliver at least prices currently being paid over the next few months as long as sterling did not strengthen, according to UFU beef and lamb chairman Crosby Cleland.
“The recent strength in the market brought some welcome confidence back into the sheep sector,” he said.
“Prices have been stable, giving farmers more flexibility with marketing lambs at the specified weight range.”
But he added this had been ‘reversed’ by processors seeking to pull back prices as lamb numbers increase.