New Zealand’s lowest spring lamb crop since 1953

06 December 2016

New Zealand’s (NZ) spring lamb crop for 2016 declined 1% from the same time the year prior, to 23.7 million head – the smallest spring lamb crop in over 60 years (Beef + Lamb NZ).

Highlighted in Beef + Lamb NZ’s latest lamb crop report, the drop in the number of lambs tailed in spring 2016 was predominantly driven by a 3% decline in the number of breeding ewes on hand, compared to last year. However, the reduced ewe flock was somewhat offset by a 2% lift in lambing percentages over the same period.

Favourable weather conditions and improved pastures in the South Island underpinned an increase in lamb numbers in spring this year, while the North Island lamb crop contracted to levels similar to 2013, which was the lowest on record due to drought conditions during mating that year.

Largely due to fewer breeding ewes, NZ lamb slaughter for 2016-17 is forecast to be down 3% year-on-year, to 19.35 million head. As a result, NZ lamb production is projected to be 2% lower for the 2016-17 season, at 357,700 tonnes cwt.

AgriHQ report that NZ lamb slaughter tracked around 30% lower than year-ago levels through most of November, proving a challenge for exporters trying to fill regular orders.   Furthermore, slower lamb growth rates this year have challenged producers to reach slaughter suitable weights, which may limit kill levels in the lead up to Christmas. The tighter supply has kept overseas demand strong in recent weeks, although it’s uncertain the extent to which this will continue, particularly in the UK and EU, once seasonal lift in NZ production eventuates in the New Year (AgriHQ).

So, what does this mean for the Australian lamb market? NZ is Australia’s major competitor in terms of lamb exports, so reduced NZ supplies over the next year, along with lower Australian lamb production, are likely to provide a strong foundation for lamb prices in 2017.

Highlighted in MLA’s recently released Australian Sheep Industry projections, Australian lamb production and slaughter are forecast to ease 2% in 2017 – to 492,800 tonnes cwt and 22 million head, respectively.

To read MLA’s Australian Sheep Industry Projections for 2017, click here

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