All-time February high for deadweight lamb prices

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The early-year evidence is that deadweight lamb prices remain strong and even achieved new, all-time highs in February- while recent consumer demand for lamb is staying steady despite the pressures on shopper spending during the cost-of-living crisis.

These positives from the domestic market are reflected in Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) latest report from the ‘Between the Lines’ series – Lamb Supply: Update and Outlook – which also notes the challenging external pressures that lamb producers across Wales continue to experience, including the cost-of-living crisis, heightened farm input costs, changes to farming support schemes, and livestock disease.

The report highlights the current supply of sheep meat on the UK market and posits potential future supply and the external factors influencing the supply chain. Glesni Phillips, HCC’s Intelligence, Analysis & Business Insight Executive, notes the last Defra annual June survey revealed a notable decline in the size of the Welsh flock. “The June survey data for Wales suggests that the total number of sheep and lambs on Welsh farms on 1 June 2023 was 8.7 million head – some seven per cent below numbers recorded in June 2022.

The survey also revealed a smaller lamb crop. “The number of lambs on the ground on 1 June 2023 in the UK stood at 15.5 million head – down six per cent on the year,” she said.

“As the current throughput of lambs up until December 2023 is ahead of what would be expected, given the size of the lamb crop, this could mean the market will likely experience a tightening in supply during the first few months of 2024,” Glesni said.  “The current lamb crop was smaller in size because drought conditions restricted scanning. In 2024-25, we’d expect scanning rates to be higher but the lamb crop is forecast to be similar in size due to a smaller breeding flock”.

The report reflects that the demand for lamb during 2023 overall has been firm, despite the continued pressures from the cost-of-living crisis. Newly released figures from consumer researchers Kantar suggests that almost 45 per cent of GB households bought lamb at some point during the year, which amounted to an increase of three per cent in terms of volume sales. Demand was also robust on the domestic market during Christmas, as lamb performed well at retail in GB. Both the uplift in trade, and robust demand from consumers, would have provided support to the sector during the year.

“This year, both the start of the Islamic festival – Ramadan – and Easter occur during the month of March. Looking at the expected levels of lambs remaining on the ground, it is likely that supply ahead of these key dates in the calendar will be tight,” predicts Glesni.

The report confirms the average deadweight price for lambs remained strong during 2023, reaching a high of £7.42/kg in May, some 23 per cent higher than year-earlier levels. “So far this year, the deadweight price has been notably stronger than previous years. It is the first-time lamb deadweight figures have gone over £6/kg in the opening weeks of February,” said Glesni.

“Lamb numbers coming forward have been below the corresponding weeks in 2023 for each week so far this year and total almost 221,600 head, some eight per cent below year-earlier levels. This tightness in supply of lambs was anticipated and is likely providing support to the deadweight average. Both the prime liveweight and store average prices are also strong currently.”

Impacts of volumes imported from Australia, which are increasing following the Free Trade Agreement which began at the end of May 2023 and projected changes in the political landscape, in Wales particularly, may be influential in the coming months.

HCC’s new Between the Lines edition – Lamb Supply: Update and Outlook – can be found here: