Lamb prices on fire

28 May, 2009 07:14 AM
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Rocketing lamb prices are reflecting real demand – on Tuesday the national trade lamb indicator hit 481 cents a kilogram, with the heavy lamb barometer just one cent behind.

That’s a 23 and 14 cent a kilogram (carcase weight) jump for the week, and is almost 100c/kg above year-ago levels.

In the past year, exports of Australian lamb to the Middle East have ballooned by 49 per cent to 3154 tonnes.

The United States and Chinese markets continue to perform strongly, with Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) reporting 3132t and 1380t to those destinations last month.

And with local and foreign diners heaping their plates with Aussie lamb, prices are approaching record rates.

But the real talking point in Australia’s lamb industry is not the lofty price tag, but the supply level – and whether there is enough to sustain such surging demand.

Identifying the amount of breeding ewes and anticipating lamb numbers had become the “million dollar question”, according to MLA economist, Tim McRae.

He said there was strong evidence breeding ewe numbers had “steadied”.

In the past five years, lamb production has increased by as much as 30pc across Australia.

But he said what made the current price rise stand out was the early peak and extended weeks above 400c/kg.

“There certainly is all the right price reasons out there for producers to increase prime lamb production, but I think the progress is slow as people are seasonally frustrated. In the past 18 months there has been a big surge towards areas planted to crop.”

In Western Australia alone, total cropping land increased by 19pc last year.

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