Sharp divisions over outlook for prices Sheep are the hardest animals to count meaningfully, because producers' definitions of the stock are so subjective. "Breeding" ewes are not necessarily kept for lamb production, and may instead be held merely for subsidy and then slaughter ­ or culls may be bred from if prices are low. Either way, figures such as MAFF's December census results, showing a small increase in the national breeding flock, are unreliable for supply and price forecasting. As MLC economists point out, last autumn's market collapse persuaded UK farmers to hold back 9% more ewe lambs into the winter than in 1997, but "although these lambs were earmarked for breeding at the December census point, it is unclear what proportion of these will actively enter the breeding flock". This market distortion was especially pronounced in Wales, where nearly 40% more were held back than 12 months earlier. As a consequence there are still sharp divisions of opinion in the industry over whether prices this summer will hold up or fade, and more particularly over whether the industry's underlying production capacity is really increasing. {{MEAT }}

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