A SENIOR ANZ economist has questioned the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) sheep flock forecast, saying it "significantly underestimated" the number of lambs marked and produced over the last three seasons.
ANZ's economist Paul Deane used its annual sheep meat industry report this week to criticise the accuracy of the ABS sheep flock projections, claiming it had missed an estimated 1.5 million marked lambs in its forecasting.
ABS recently reported the nation's flock had fallen by seven per cent in a year to 71.6 million head ? 19.5 million head or 21 per cent less compared to June 30, 2006.
In the report Mr Deane said irregular survey response rates ? 91 per cent in the 2006 census year and 79pc in 2008-09 year ? created an uneven sample size to base trends on.
This inaccuracy created problems estimating sheep numbers in between census periods.
ANZ Agribusiness forecast the Australian sheep flock to fall to 68 million head by July 2010, a four million head or 6pc decline year on year.
"The ABS flock forecast looks correct but its forecasted shortfall of lamb for slaughter is off."
Its report found that around 40 million head of sheep and lambs were removed through slaughtering, live exports and deaths from the flock this season and at the same time 33.5 million lambs were marked ? a sustainable rate if ewe breeder numbers do not continue to decline.
The ANZ agribusiness report said total breeding ewe numbers at June 30 this year were at 37m - 28m on the east coast and 8.7m in the west.
ABS director Environment and Agriculture Adrian Bugg said the estimates released earlier in the month were preliminary estimates based on a response rate of 79pc from a sample of approximately 38,000 agricultural businesses selected in the 2008-09 Agricultural Survey.
He said final estimates ? due April next year ? were based on a higher response rate and could vary from the preliminary estimates.