Lamb prices resilient, but there's still room to move

Lamb prices resilient, but still room to move


Markets
LAMB LOTS: Thomas Hicks with Brad Gabell and Brie Harvey, all from Jervois, SA. Ms Harvey was selling Black Suffolk wether lambs at the Mount Pleasant, SA, sheep market.

LAMB LOTS: Thomas Hicks with Brad Gabell and Brie Harvey, all from Jervois, SA. Ms Harvey was selling Black Suffolk wether lambs at the Mount Pleasant, SA, sheep market.

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Lamb prices defied a supply increase in early trading this week.

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Lamb prices defied a supply increase in early trading this week, and the Eastern States Trade Lamb Indicator climbed to 719 cents a kilogram.

As producers rushed to cash in on a rising market before the Easter and Anzac Day break stopped sales and slowed down processors, prices showed resilience.

The ESTLI now sits 147c/kg above the same time last year, having jumped more than 70c/kg in the past four weeks.

Over the hooks prices also rose this week, with Victoria trade weight lambs averaging 690c/kg, while South Australia and NSW averaged 680c/kg, rising 13c/kg to 40c/kg.

All signs pointed towards a dip in lamb supply by this point of the year, as a consequence of the ongoing drought impacting lambs on the ground, however that hasn't been the case.

Lambs taking longer to get to sale weights because of a lack of feed, and an increase in Merino wethers on the market that would usually be live exported, could have both impacted lamb supply.

Meat Livestock Australia pointed out that for the year to April 5, eastern states lamb slaughter averaged 360,000 head a week, an increase of 2 per cent year-on-year.

But national lamb yardings were actually down more than 400,000 head year-on-year for the first quarter.

This likely impacted the ESTLI averaging 31c/kg higher for the first quarter of 2019 than for the same three months in 2018 - the highest average on record for that period.

Increased export orders are increasing demand.

MLA's market information team said historical data showed prices would be dictated by supply - or a lack thereof - in the coming months.

"A look back at 2018 demonstrates just how responsive prices can become when supply levels change," MLA said.

"For the month of May 2018, eastern states lamb slaughter averaged in excess of 400,000 head per week, while the ESTLI averaged 604c/kg carcase weight.

"By August, slaughter had fallen 31pc to average 280,000 head per week, as deteriorating seasonal conditions hampered the supply of finished lambs.

"In response to the shortfall, the ESTLI averaged 815/kg in August, which was 35pc higher than the May average."

McKean McGregor senior livestock agent Alex Collins, Bendigo, said the trade lamb had strengthened in the past fortnight, and there had also been a spike in the heavy end of the market.

"We've seen some heavy lambs come forward that haven't been protected by forward contracts and producers have decided to come forward after holding for a while," Mr Collins said.

"But on Monday at Bendigo extra heavy lambs were making 600-640c/kg in cases and that is still 120c/kg shy of some of the forward contract money that has been around."

He said there were more lambs out there than many had thought, which would put pressure on the market over the next 10 days with Easter, Anzac Day and less kill days.

"One thing people are surprised about is that the lamb market isn't dearer by now, but this dry has exacerbated numbers coming forward to market now," he said.

"Also there was a misconception that the lamb market was really dear all the way through winter last year but we were still selling lambs forward and on the spot for 640-680c/kg in June, so the dear money wasn't until the back end of August.

"We'll have to wait until then to see the big end of it again this year."

Bowyer Livermore director Todd Clements, Bathurst, NSW, said there were still plenty of vendor bred lambs in the region that hadn't been sold yet, which would support numbers for the next eight weeks.

"And the price has been getting dearer and dearer every week, back up to 700-750c/kg so that's not so bad," Mr Clements said.

"Restocker lambs are starting to get a bit scarce, we've been buying 2000-3000 a week out of Victoria, but they are all about done now.

"Feeder buyers are keeping trade price up because they are going hard to $160 for feedlot lambs and keeping trade lamb buyers on their toes - feeders here are keen to keep buying but lambs will disappear shortly."

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