Reduced processing restricts February sheepmeat exports

07 March 2017

Despite a stronger than average January, Australian lamb exports in February were down 3% from the same time last year, at 21,474 tonnes shipped weight (swt; Department of Agriculture and Water Resources). This was, however, 15% higher than the five-year (2012-2016) average for the month, and brought the year-to-date (January and February) total to 41,833 tonnes swt – up 5% year-on-year, and 24% above the five-year average.

Furthermore, there was a slight shift in the composition of lamb exported in February – with 42% being chilled (down from 43% last year), and 58% frozen (up from 57%).

As an indication of supply during the month, eastern states (all states except WA) lamb slaughter averaged around 354,000 head per week in February – a reduction of close to 4% from the corresponding period last year, underpinning the decline in volumes shipped.

Lamb shipments to the US dropped 14% year-on-year, to 5,010 tonnes swt – albeit off a high-base in 2016. Leg volumes eased 1%, to 1,391 tonnes swt, while assorted cuts were down 48% to 824 tonnes swt. Shank (604 tonnes swt), shoulder (596 tonnes swt) and rack (433 tonnes swt) exports, on the other hand, lifted 2%, 25% and 15%, respectively.

Exports to the Middle East in February were down 10% from last year (also off a relatively high base), to 4,709 tonnes swt – still 7% above the five-year average. Largely underpinning the decline to the region was a 50% fall in volumes to Jordan, to 553 tonnes swt, along with 29% and 8% decreases to Saudi Arabia (467 tonnes swt) and Qatar (1,070 tonnes swt). However, there was growth registered to the UAE (up 4%, to 1,878 tonnes swt), Kuwait (up 43% to 456 tonnes swt) and Bahrain (up 43%, to 124 tonnes swt).

The predominant cut exported to the Middle East is lamb carcase – in February, volumes eased 9% year-on-year, to 3,201 tonnes swt. Leg (584 tonnes swt) and shoulder (386 tonnes swt) were down 9% and 15%, respectively, while, encouragingly, rack (a higher value cut) shipments to the Middle East increased 5% from last year, to 239 tonnes swt.

Australian lamb exports to China were up 16% year-on-year in February, to 3,847 tonnes swt. Volumes of breast and flap lifted 11%, to 2,493 tonnes swt, while manufacturing jumped 37%, to 870 tonnes swt.

Lamb shipments to the EU were the highest February volume since MLA records began – up 46% from last year, to 1,579. This increase was primarily driven by 90% surge in exports to the UK for the month, to 1,183 tonnes swt.

Korea has recorded remarkable growth over the last few years, growing from 283 tonnes swt in February 2012, to 1,340 tonnes swt in February this year. The major cut shipped to Korea in February was shoulder (up 51%, to 832 tonnes swt), followed by breast and flap – which more than doubled year-on-year, to 275 tonnes swt.

Australian mutton exports were 13% lower than the corresponding period last year, at 12,834 tonnes swt – largely due to tighter domestic supplies. However, the two largest export destinations, the Middle East and US, registered considerable year-on-year growth in February – not enough to offset the declines to Asia.

Mutton shipments to the Middle East were up 15% in February, to 4,868 tonnes swt, while shipments to the US for the month almost doubled year-on-year, to 2,713 tonnes swt. Volumes to south-east Asia and China were 48% and 13% lower, respectively, to 1,585 tonnes swt and 1,857 tonnes swt.

For further lamb and mutton export data, the monthly trade summaries are available on the MLA website here.  

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