With major lamb processors booked out for direct deliveries until the middle of May, the pressures of the dry season and high cost of feeding has kept the lamb market in its knees again this week.
Pleading for a glimpse of some unbridled competition in the saleyards, demand for heavy trade and export weight classes struggled once again for clear air trading at almost 100 cents a kilogram below contracted direct delivery rates.
At Ballarat on Tuesday, where agents yarded 16,240 lambs, quality was said to range from average to good, but there were no extra heavy lambs yarded, with the bulk of the better-presented export weight lambs selling to local processors.
Meat & Livestock Australia said the usual buying group attended but operated selectively in a firm market that ranged a couple of dollars either side of last week's levels.
Heavy lambs at Ballarat made to a top of $175 a head, with the medium trade weights, 22-24kg, sold mostly from $150-$169.50.
Feeders and restockers were again active and paid from $105-$143, and to $170 for heavy lambs to feed.
With prices for direct to works heavy lambs being realised in the $170-$220 price bracket, and the odd sale for extra heavy weight (to 40kg) being returned exceeding $240, there is little wonder why agents and their finisher-producers are beating a well-worn path, past saleyards, and to the major processors to collect the larger payment cheques.
However, according to sources, timing is bearing down on when this flight to freedom for processors may end, some are saying it will be in June, while others are saying later but that the inevitable will occur, and quickly.
The law of averages suggests there should be break of some sorts somewhere in southern Australia during autumn.
However, the evidence being seen presently in the saleyards of the large number of empty ewes that did not conceive being offered for sale, the likelihood of a decent sucker supply this side of November looks hopelessly grim.
And those lucky enough to produce a new season lamb in the spring will be well rewarded and highly likely not to accept the bait of a direct to works contract.
The mutton market was again heavily laden, with ewes surplus to the constraints of the season and in many cases bearing an unborn lamb.
At some plants, it has been mentioned this ratio is as high as 60 per cent, which places a further dampener on the potential of the upcoming spring supply.
Rates for mutton this week again hovered around the 400c/kg level, which under drought-forced sales condition, was a decent return by any gauge.