UK lamb prices plummeted by 20% in the last two weeks of April - prompting British farmers to hit out at New Zealand imports and demand that supermarkets buy more British lamb.
However, although HMRC data confirms sheepmeat imports were up 8% year on year in February, with much of the increase driven by higher shipments from New Zealand, meat industry experts say imports are not the primary driver behind the recent price falls. Instead, the blame lies largely with older British lambs carried over from last season.
AHDB senior analyst Debbie Butcher says there is a “significant number” of domestic old season lambs coming through following near-perfect seasonal conditions in 2014, which resulted in the biggest lamb crop since 2007.
“We had a drop-off in summer due to poor weather in some parts of the country and so those lambs came forward in the first quarter of the year, resulting in the largest carryover for years,” she explains.
National Sheep Association chairman Phil Stocker agrees a carryover of overweight old season hogs is putting downward pressure on prices, although he claims “an increased New Zealand offering” is also contributing to the situation.
Both also point to the strength of the pound, which is having an impact on prices on the French market despite demand remaining robust.
In the short term, it seems likely low prices will continue, experts predict, with domestic sheepmeat production set to rise 6% in 2015 and New Zealand reporting a drop off in demand from China.
However, Butcher says price will ultimately depend on consumer demand and points out that lamb flocks across the rest of Europe are in decline, so any rise in EU consumption would boost British prices in the longer term.