Chew on that as China's taste for Aussie lamb keeps growing

China demand turbocharges exciting decade for sheepmeat

Sheep
CHEW FOR TWENTY CHEW: Cricket icon, Richie Benaud, was the new frontman for Meat and Livestock Australia's lamb advertising campaign around Australia Day in 2015.

CHEW FOR TWENTY CHEW: Cricket icon, Richie Benaud, was the new frontman for Meat and Livestock Australia's lamb advertising campaign around Australia Day in 2015.

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The sheepmeat sector enjoyed a profitable and exciting decade but drought has stopped the industry taking full advantage of its export potential.

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The Australian sheepmeat industry has enjoyed a turbocharged decade with our lamb and mutton in red-hot demand around the world.

China has developed an almost insatiable taste for our sheepmeat and ended the decade easily Australia's biggest volume export market.

Buoyant International demand means Australia no longer relies on the domestic market to absorb seasonal flushes in lamb production.

Just about all Australia's mutton is now exported along with 60 per cent of our lamb.

The one big problem overhanging the industry during the past decade has been a sheep flock that has doggedly refused to climb above 70 million - due, in so small part, to drought.

Lamb prices have continued to set national records across the decade culminating in a $355 price for 11-month-old White Suffolk cross lambs at Forbes on July 16, 2019.

How long that record will last is anybody's guess.

The decade started with heavy lambs selling for a record $206 at Forbes early in 2011. That record lasted a week before being eclipsed at Ballarat when lambs estimated to dress 33-34 kilograms fetched $210.

NOT A BAAAD PRICE: Forbes Livestock Agency Company's Randal Gregson with Chris and Isaac Petropoulos, who claimed the national record lamb price in July this year with these White Suffolk cross heavy lambs.

NOT A BAAAD PRICE: Forbes Livestock Agency Company's Randal Gregson with Chris and Isaac Petropoulos, who claimed the national record lamb price in July this year with these White Suffolk cross heavy lambs.

Mt Gambier briefly claimed the record at $212 but the prices kept rising to land at $253.50 at Cowra for heavy second-cross lambs.

Oddly, Coles and Woolworths decided to start a lamb price war in September that year but strong prices meant they couldn't use their market power to squeeze lower prices out of producers.

Australians spent $2.2 billion on lamb in 2010-11.

Meat and Livestock Australia's first sheepmeat industry projections for 2012 underlined booming export demand in the Middle East, China and the United States.

The national commodities forecaster, ABARES, predicted sheep numbers would climb to 81m by mid-13 and reach 85m by 2016. Both forecasts were way off beam.

MLA launched into 2013 with predictions that the lamb slaughter would hit 20.7m that year while lamb exports would jump 18pc year-on-year to 188,600 tonnes.

HUNGRY COMRADES: China has emerged as Australia's biggest volume market for both lamb and mutton during the past decade.

HUNGRY COMRADES: China has emerged as Australia's biggest volume market for both lamb and mutton during the past decade.

A group of 30 Poll Dorset breeders declared they had no confidence in Lambplan and Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs), declaring the best stock were bred by stockmen, not software wizards.

Lamb slaughter hit a record 21.9m in 2013 while production was also a record 460,000 tonnes. Around 56pc of lamb production was now exported.

China's appetite for lamb continued to grow in 2014 on the back of the growing popularity of hotpots in the Chinese food services sector.

By March the over-the-hooks lamb rates had hit 600c. Ben White, the Royal Agricultural Society's ag development manager, declared lamb was the new lobster.

In 2005 Sam Kekovich, the former Aussie Rules player and media commentator, started as the deadpan frontman for a series of politically incorrect television advertisements promoting the consumption of lamb on Australia Day.

The advertisements, which were usually highly controversial, ran for 10 years until 2015 when the format changed and Richie Benaud, the iconic Test cricketer and commentator who was seriously ill at the time, replaced Kekovich as the new "Lambassador".

In February, 2015, leading sheepmeat processor, Roger Fletcher, urged the Federal Government to remove sheepmeat from MLA and merge it with Australian Wool Innovation.

Lamb consumption in the US, Australia's highest value export market, rose in 2016 for the first time in 50 years.

Meanwhile, back at home the MLA was worried the younger generation of consumers had a bad case of "lamb anxiety" because they didn't know how to cook traditional cuts like lamb roasts.

Trade lamb prices hit a record 623c in July, spurred along by supply shortages.

First-cross ewe and lamb prices hit a whopping $456 at Wycheproof, Victoria.

On November 10 the MLA announced a bold $150 million program to encourage the roll-out of cutting-edge DEXA objective carcase measurement equipment in about 90 abattoirs.

The holy grail of the lamb industry is the introduction of value-based pricing based on DEXA measurement (lean carcase yield) and objective eating-quality assessment.

Gundagai Meat Processors in southern NSW has installed a DEXA unit and is now preparing to test eating-quality measuring technology in 2020.

Early in 2017 high lamb prices were taking their toll on processors with six abattoirs closing their doors temporarily or permanently.

The Eastern States Mutton Indicator had hit 523c and New Zealand was trying to muscle in on the booming China market.

In August a review of lamb classification got underway with the aim of finally bringing Australia's definition into line with NZ's.

The push was successful and Australia's new definition of lamb - from sheep under 12 months or with no permanent incisor teeth in wear - was implemented on July 1, 2019.

Sheep and lamb prices have been solid throughout 2019 despite periods of heavy turn-off because of drrought.

Trade lamb prices peaked at 950c but have dropped back to around 700c.

Widespread rain in early 2020 is likely to spark the flock rebuilding phase the industry has been wanting for much of the past 10 years.

The story Chew on that as China's taste for Aussie lamb keeps growing first appeared on Farm Online.

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