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Prices and weather hold back lamb sales in 2023

27 March 2024

The latest data from the joint Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) and Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) Sheep Producer Intentions PULSE Survey (SPIS) was published earlier this week, showing that producers held onto their lambs due to concerns about weather conditions and pricing.

The Sheep Producer Intentions Survey, conducted twice a year, covers three main areas:

  • Flock population and demographics to provide a breakdown of breeding ewes and lambs (pending survey wave).
  • Sheepmeat and wool supply information, along with producer production intentions for sales and changes to production practices.
  • Producer sentiment towards the sheepmeat and wool sectors.

The February PUSLE survey follows up on responses to the October wave, which focuses on the lamb flock and producer intentions for the remainder of the spring flush and onward to June 2024. Understanding how producer sales track against their projected sales provides insights into supply for the first half of the year.

The PULSE survey further confirms producer-reported sales up to 31 December 2023, finalising total sales made in the second half of 2023. It also updates the forecasted lamb sales, analysing reasons for any deviations from expectations.

Results from the PULSE survey indicated that the majority of producers made changes to their planned 2023 sales volumes. Only 46% of producers sold the number of lambs they had anticipated.

And 40% of producers sold fewer lambs than expected, citing prices and weather as the primary reasons. Lamb prices were lower than anticipated in 2023, prompting some producers to retain their lambs in anticipation of higher prices in 2024. Weather conditions also affected lamb performance and hindered their ability to reach target weights.

Conversely, 14% of producers sold more lambs in 2023 than expected, noting weather conditions were more suitable to sell earlier, higher-than-expected lamb numbers, and intentions to destock due to anticipated declining conditions in 2024. This information led to an adjustment of 2023 sales from 10.66 million to 8.47 million. Survey feedback suggests that most unsold lambs in 2023 are planned to be sent to market in 2024, as evidenced by peak yardings and sustained elevated slaughter in the first months of 2024. Forecasted sales in the first six months of 2024 were also readjusted from 10.36 to 12.80 million head to reflect this timeline shift.

Additionally, the PULSE survey explored sales channels that producers planned to use, noting a slight increase from 50% to 52% in the number of producers using saleyards as a platform. This shift is likely due to processors filling books and moving away from forward contracts, the usage of which dropped from 4% to 1%.

The next full wave of the Sheep Producer Intentions Survey is scheduled for release in April, and all producers are encouraged to participate.