Weather has been the defining feature of the sheep sector in 2018, with the politics of trade to be the main topic of interest for many sheep farmers heading into the New Year.
Snow and rain mortality in many parts of the country contributed significantly to reductions in the size of the 2018 lamb crop, according to Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) director of economics services Stuart Ashworth.
The lamb crop was down eight per cent in Scotland, six per cent in Wales and 1.4 per cent in England, as revealed in the June census.
“The extended period of dry weather that followed then impacted on grass and lamb growth which disrupted the supply of prime lambs in late summer and early autumn,” Mr Ashworth said.
UK slaughterings between June and the end of November were down five per cent year on year.
Tom Forshaw, red meat analyst at AHDB, said this had led to a ‘massive spike’ in price.
Lower production and high prices had then limited exports, as they were not competitive.
Imports had ended up at similar figures year on year.
Ewe slaughterings between June and the end of December were up three per cent, with implications on breeding sheep numbers for the 2019 lamb crop.
The level of current slaughterings suggests slightly fewer of the current lamb crop have been slaughtered than this time last year.
However, as a higher proportion of the current lamb crop may be carried into next year, the smaller number suggests it will be lower than last year.
Mr Ashworth said: “First quarter trade, however, will have the cloud of Brexit hanging over it, as indeed will the prospects for the marketing of the 2019 lamb crop.”
He added certainty only existed until the end of March. However, if everything else was equal, a late Easter and Ramadan in May could mean there was late season support for prime hogg prices.
Mr Forshaw added in terms of imports, AHDB forecasts suggested those from New Zealand would be down due to bad lambing and high prices and high demand from China with Australian lamb prices also high.