Choosing right time to go to market

THE sheep market has bounced back from a low point in late September but farmers with lambs still to sell should only market them when they are at the correct level of finish, HCC’s industry information executive John Richards told the conference. He said the bottom of the market was lower than in previous years. “During the last few weeks, however, we have seen a more positive trend as demand for lambs has increased.” Mr Richards said future numbers of the UK sheep flock was “the unknown” within the industry. “In June of this year we had about 17 million lambs, which is about 600,000 more than last year, and that’s one reason why the price this year has been below last year’s level. “Overall, on the UK level, the rebuilding of the flock is happening. It’s a very positive thing. It shows that the producers see a future in the industry. “Another positive is that we are producing more lambs per ewe than we did ten years ago and that means more productivity within the enterprise.” About 250,000 extra lambs have been slaughtered between May and September and, in the main, they were bigger carcase weights. Mr Richards explained that producers should not try to increase carcass weight past 21kg as that was the maximum for abattoir payment. Summarising trends, he said a lot of things come together to cause market volatility. “It’s been around for a long time and there isn’t much we can do about it – but we can mitigate the risk when making business plans.” Strengthening of sterling, particularly against the Euro, was going to make things a lot more difficult but HCC had recognised that there were growing opportunities outside of the Eurozone and the organisation was working on developing these leads. “Ensuring a supply of consistent product is vital for us. We can develop and maintain markets for Welsh Lamb but we really have to make sure that the lamb we are selling is of the same standard each time because that’s what the consumer expects. “Having one bad eating experience is enough to turn a consumer off and that’s something we have to avoid.” Understanding changes in consumer behaviour – for instance, carcasses are becoming less important and cuts becoming more important – helped to ensure that “we are producing what the market wants”. “And then the retail price of the actual lamb is a very important factor and will continue to be so. People have got less money in their pockets to spend and if they see lamb as being an expensive purchase, or too expensive for the actual eating experience that they are going to get, they are simply not going to buy it,” said Mr Richards.

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