Lamb and mutton prices surged to record levels this winter as lower domestic supply met with robust international demand. Producers with livestock to sell were buoyed by the elevated prices as processors competed extensively to secure product and satisfy export demand. However, the majority of Australian sheep producers are still managing heavily depleted breeding flocks and heightened feed costs as severe drought conditions continue.
Water shortages have reached a critical point for large parts of the east coast, with regional towns in northern NSW now under water restrictions as councils seek to ration limited water supplies. Producers in these regions face an increasingly difficult and expensive burden in sourcing water for livestock, with many opting to further destock and not join their ewes on hand.
The extent of elevated breeding ewe turn-off at the beginning of the year eased during the winter months, as producers looked to spring and post-weaning before assessing feed availability. The annual sheep slaughter forecast has remained unchanged on the previous projections at 8.5 million head.
The southern wet season has been mixed so far, with parts of SA and south-west Victoria having an above-average season – in stark contrast to the challenging conditions experienced in northern Victoria and the majority of NSW. The significant variability has presented challenges in ascertaining how national lambing rates have performed however, the overwhelming consensus is for fewer lambs to enter the market for the remainder of 2019.
Lamb slaughter reached the lowest level since January 2012 in June and remained subdued in July. However, National Livestock Reporting Service (NLRS) reported numbers indicate new season lambs are starting to appear in reasonable numbers. As a result, forecast national lamb slaughter has been revised slightly higher on the previous projections and is now expected to decline 5% on 2018, to 21.6 million head.
Demand for Australian sheepmeat, from China and the US in particular, has been exceptionally strong so far in 2019, supported by a depreciating Australian dollar. This strong international demand has helped underpin record lamb and mutton prices and provides the platform for many producers to begin rebuilding their flocks when conditions improve.
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