Price boosting shortage counterbalanced by sheepskin value collapse Rumours of further tightening in the lamb market have been prompted by MAFF's confirmation it is considering a major increase in sheep culling as part of its FMD eradication. Though the 200,000 figure might seem large when reported in the tabloids, it is almost negligible as a proportion of the 20 million head national breeding flock. A cull on this scale could take out a meaningful percentage of the lambs originally predicted to be born during the next few weeks in some areas, and disruption of regional supply chains would be greater if MAFF adopted harsher measures, but the kill would not in itself be big enough to reduce UK production significantly. Instead, the message from producers and their processor customers in the most seriously affected areas, northern England and south west Scotland, is of cost pressures and procurement bottlenecks resulting from livestock movement restrictions and other logistical difficulties rather than compulsory culling Present indications are the price boosting effects of regional shortages would be cancelled out by other depressing influences becoming visible in the market. Sheepskin values have already collapsed due to the export ban. In theory this is almost irrelevant to the wholesale price of the meat but as the skin is an important component of the payout to producers, there is an obvious danger of renewed protests by farmers against supermarkets and slaughterers. Hints of further price disturbance, favourable to buyers, can also be detected in the imported lamb trade. New Zealand slaughterers are reportedly worried by their farmer suppliers still holding back stock in the hope of further price increases to follow the sharp escalation seen when the fmd crisis began. The New Zealanders fear they will literally miss the boat ­ sending too little to the UK for Easter and then overloading the market here later when the home kill builds up. Even the 200,000 head cull would probably not take out of the trade anywhere near enough to make room for the British sheep locked into the domestic market by the export ban during the third and fourth quarters of the year, and delayed arrival of frozen imports would make matters much worse. {{M/E MEAT }}