The latest forecasts for the UK sheep sector continue to point to a tight supply situation for the remainder of the 2013/14 season.
UK sheep meat production forecasts for the coming year have been revised upwards, but the 2013 lamb crop is still expected to prove relatively low, according to AHDB Market Intelligence and Eblex.
Defra’s June 2013 census showed a 1% rise in lamb numbers, however this was driven by unexpected results from Wales, which indicated lamb numbers up 7% on the year.
Industry opinion suggests these numbers are too high, so these forecasts continue to assume a lower figure for lamb numbers.
While production forecasts for the first half of 2014 are higher than previous levels, they are still substantially below year-earlier levels, as the carryover of lamb from 2012 made production in early 2013 unusually high.
A lower number of adult sheep culls are also expected, after what has mostly been a better season.
In addition to tightened domestic production, imports are expected to be tighter for much of the year. This follows the decline in the New Zealand lamb crop for 2013, with its forecast export slaughter down 7% on the previous season.
With the continued rise in Chinese demand, it is possible an even greater percentage of New Zealand exports will be sent there, diverting volumes away from the UK and Europe.
With UK imports dominated by New Zealand product, lower production and diversion to other markets means UK imports are forecast to be considerably lower in 2014.
Production in other countries supplying the UK is also expected to be tighter, with both Ireland and Australia projecting falling supplies.
Exports for 2014 are predicted to be lower than 2013 levels, mainly due to strong 2013 levels. However, with lower imports and reduced production, home market requirements are expected to limit export availability.
Domestic supply/production is still being influenced by the unfavourable 2012-13 winter, but increased supplies in the second half of 2014 are anticipated, following better conditions in 2013-14.
However, recent heavy rains and flooding might cause regional difficulties.
Supplies in 2015 are expected to increase to some degree, although this is based on a number of assumptions which may not transpire, the key ones being that UK ewe numbers will be broadly stable, weather patterns will be relatively benign and New Zealand production and trade patterns will not alter dramatically.
While much could change, the expectation is that UK supplies are unlikely to recover to a large extent and certainly not to pre-2010 levels.