Uncharted territory

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In NORMAL times, this is the changeover period in the sheep trade, with the supply of hoggs from the previous year drying up and new lambs coming on to the market.

Major retailers have to make a judgment call about switching solely to new-season product and the market can often be nervous until that happens.

This year, the changeover process has been complicated by the slow growth rates of new-season lambs and the negative impact of Schmallenberg on early lambing flocks, particularly in southern England, as well as the higher volumes of hoggs available late into the season.

So there is no normality this year, according to Stuart Ashworth, Quality Meat Scotland’s economic guru.

“Volumes of new season lambs at auctions are trailing behind last year by some 40 per cent,” he said, “but the year-on-year price shows new season lambs currently trading around 15 per cent higher than last year.”

When asked to predict how the trade would pan out in the coming months, Ashworth, despite being cautious by nature, reckoned supplies would be tight.

Compounding this position, he said consumer interest in lamb had increased through a combination of concerns over meat provenance after the horsemeat scandal and the ability of retailers to offer more competitively priced product.

He added it was a positive sign when, despite increases in both domestic production and imports from New Zealand over the first quarter, producer prices had increased.

“With cattle and pig farm gate prices continuing to be well ahead of last year, prospects for lamb prices remain positive.”