THERE are concerns that Australia's decreasing sheep flock may cause irreparable damage to live export markets.
Exporters are already feeling the effects of the dwindling sheep flock and are struggling to fill vessels.
According to Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), Australia's sheep flock, the majority of which is made up by Merinos, is now 72 million head which is the lowest it has been since the turn of the 19th century.
MLA lamb and sheepmeat research and development manager Alex Ball said it was a priority for MLA to look at the stability of the Australian sheep flock and how to get more Merino ewes into the system to build long term recovery of the lamb and sheep meat industry.
Mr Ball said the biggest change in numbers had been a reduction in the number of Merino ewes and wethers.
WA Livestock Exporters Association chairman John Edwards said with high sheep prices and a lack of supply, the current situation in WA was simply not sustainable.
He said the national flock had eroded to a point where the biggest numbers were now coming from last year's lambs, which came with low live weights and high prices and made it difficult for exporters to compete with other countries.
Mr Edwards said the fact that exporters Australia-wide were struggling to fill vessels was a clear signal of where the sheep numbers had got to.
He said there were costs associated with short loading vessels, but more damaging could be the impact supply shortages could have on WA's valued Middle East markets.