The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics highlights considerably reduced lamb and sheep availability in February, compared to the same time last year.
The number of lambs processed for the month was down 11% year-on-year, at 1.8 million head, while sheep slaughter was back 15%, at 655,595 head.
Furthermore, compared to the five-year (2011 to 2016) average for the month, the February lamb and mutton kill totals were 2% and 19% lower, respectively.
This brought the year-to-date (January and February) lamb slaughter to 3.7 million head (down 5% year-on-year) and sheep slaughter to 1.3 million head (down 13% year-on-year).
Heavier lamb and sheep carcases have somewhat offset the impact of lower slaughter.
As a result, lamb production for the first two months of 2017 amounted to 85,053 tonnes carcase weight (cwt), back 4% from year-ago levels, while mutton production eased 9%, to 31,778 tonnes cwt.
Despite the year-on-year reductions, on-the-ground reports suggest there will be a reasonable supply of lambs through until the end of April, before numbers are anticipated to tighten considerably until August/September, with the new season flush. In the recently released Sheep Industry Projections April 2017 update, MLA forecast Australian lamb slaughter for this year to be 6% lower than 2016 levels, at 21.5 million head – largely influenced by strong producer incentives to retain stock.
On the demand side of the equation, the volume of lamb that left Australian shores in the March quarter (January to March) was up slightly year-on-year, at 63,690 tonnes shipped weight (swt), and 20% higher than the five-year average (Department of Agriculture and Water Resources) – although trends were mixed across the major markets. Lamb export volumes in February and March are typically higher, in line with increased domestic supplies and the lead up to the Easter holiday period.
For the March quarter, compared to last year, Australian lamb shipments to:
- The Middle East declined 6%, to 14,824 tonnes swt
- The US declined 6%, to 14,346 tonnes swt
- China lifted 35%, to 12,650 tonnes swt
- Korea doubled, to 3,733 tonnes swt
- The EU increased 12%, to 3,186 tonnes swt