Poor conditions impact sheepmeat supply

By Country News

Australian lamb slaughter is forecast to reach its lowest level since 2012 as poor conditions that impacted 2018 are expected to continue to affect sheepmeat supply this year, according to Meat & Livestock Australia’s 2019 Sheep Industry Projections.

Lamb slaughter is forecast to decline seven per cent in 2019 to 21.2million head, while sheep slaughter is predicted to be down 16 per cent, to eight million head, underpinned by substantial drops in marking rates and the culling of large numbers of ewes and ewe lambs.

The national flock is estimated to have declined by more than four million head, or 6.1 per cent, to mid-2018 and is forecast to experience a further decline of 3.7 per cent by mid-2019 to 65.3million head, as many producers are forced to continue destocking as they wait for a turnaround in the weather.

The significantly reduced breeding flock and widespread rainfall deficiencies suggest fewer joinings than usual and a continuation of the below-average lambing rates experienced in 2018.

MLA’s market intelligence manager Scott Tolmie said many producers would be hoping for some consistent rainfall this year to help alleviate some of the pressures associated with high feed costs.

‘‘Unfortunately, the current Bureau of Meteorology three-month outlook does not point to an immediate reprieve from the current hot and dry conditions,’’ Mr Tolmie said.

‘‘Considering the substantial moisture deficiencies apparent in many regions, particularly NSW, any improvement in conditions would require consistent above-average rainfall over the coming months.’’

Mr Tolmie said sheep and lamb carcase weights were impacted by the tough conditions and high cost of feed in 2018, and this was expected to continue in 2019 with feedstocks depleted and feed demand to remain high until conditions improved.

‘‘The average lamb carcase weight is expected to remain around 22.4kg/head in 2019 while the national average sheep carcase weight is expected to stabilise in 2019 at 23.6kg/head,’’ Mr Tolmie said.

‘‘A fall in slaughter and carcase weights is driving the seven per cent forecast decline in lamb production for 2019 to 475000 tonnes carcase weight (cwt).

‘‘Mutton production will likely see a steeper drop of 16 per cent to 188000 tonnes cwt.’’

Mr Tolmie said looking beyond the current rainfall deficiencies, a variety of indicators pointed towards 2019 continuing to be a positive year for sheepmeat prices.

‘‘Fortunately, robust international demand and a low Australian dollar will continue to support Australian exports and, in turn, domestic saleyard prices. Records were broken in 2018 as markets around the world competed strongly for Australia’s high quality sheepmeat,’’ Mr Tolmie said.

■To read MLA’s 2019 Sheep Industry Projections, visit: