THE world is waking up to sheep.
Meat & Livestock Australia’s (MLA) Australian sheep industry projections 2018 report showed international demand for live and boxed sheep continues to grow, with the Australian sheep industry described as set to enjoy a robust future.
In 2017, Australian sheepmeat exports had their biggest year since 2014, with lamb recording a new high of 251,000 tonnes shipped weight (swt), while mutton reversed two years of decline, recording growth on the back of significant increases in the domestic supply, reaching 147,000t swt.
The report stated that despite the increase in pricing across both lamb and sheep in 2017, international demand remains robust, resulting in a 20 per cent rise in the export value of lamb and 45pc increase in value for mutton – both at new record levels.
While supplies of lamb remain, tight which is placing pressure on price for overseas customers, the long-term fundamentals remain positive for the Australian sheepmeat industry, according to the report.
Australian lamb exports in 2018 are expected to be down slightly year-on-year to 241,000t swt, though this is 4pc above the five year average and shipment volumes are expected to build back to new highs for 2019 as production and demand grows.
Mutton exports will likely be lower in 2018 as a fall in slaughter flows through to reduced production.
The export market accounts for more than 95pc of mutton production and this is only expected to increase in the future with the main export destinations continuing to be China, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, which together account for more than 40pc of Australia’s mutton exports.
The two key markets for Australian sheepmeat and live sheep and lamb exports are China and the United States, with the US remaining Australia’s largest destination for lamb on the back of its sixth consecutive year of growth in 2017.
The report showed lamb exports to the US jumped from 39,000t swt in 2013 to 55,000t swt in 2017.
After three years of decline, China is back to recording significant growth in Australian sheepmeat exports, climbing 40pc to 83,000t swt.
Values were also up substantially by 90pc in the year to November which the report attributed in part to lamb, which recorded its biggest year of exports to China, with a 26pc increase in breast and flap shipments.
The report also noted the vast opening for opportunity to increase demand for a wider variety of cuts into that market.
In the Middle East, sheepmeat exports in 2017 tracked in line with the previous year, reaching 108,000t swt, while Korea was a notable market for Australian sheepmeat exports, with lamb (both chilled and frozen) growing at 42pc to 13,000t swt.
In the live export market for sheep and lambs, exports lifted 3pc year-on-year in 2017 to 1.89 million head.
Demand from Qatar and Oman drove the overall increase according to the report, while exports to Kuwait, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates were lower.
The report also noted the positive news of recommencement of live shipments into Turkey, with 198,000 head travelling there in 2017 and there is also potential for Saudi Arabia and Iran markets opening to Australian live exporters.
Overall, the report expects live sheep exports to be flat in 2018 at 1.9 million head despite strong international demand and new market potential because of the on-going flock rebuild and high prices in Australia.