LAMB prices have remained consistent in Western Australia, as the meat processing sector continues to grapple with chronic labour shortages.
Daily processing numbers are down by up to 30 per cent - and as a result processing has taken longer than usual - according to Western Australian Meat Marketing Co-operative (WAMMCO) chief executive officer Coll MacRury.
Mr MacRury said while COVID-19 had affected the industry for the past two months, the real issue now was accessing labour.
"WAMMCO is the same as all processors," Mr MacRury said.
"A lack of overseas labour is hurting throughputs and although we aren't down as much as some processors it is still a problem.
"We are hoping it will be sorted in coming weeks, as we get another intake of labour."
Mr MacRury said the world market and livestock market was strong in real terms.
And taking into account the heavier than normal lamb weights, he believed it would remain strong heading into next season.
He said lamb prices had remained fairly consistent for the past four months.
"Generally, we are seeing lamb prices in the Eastern States remain about 70 cents per kilogram behind WA, on heavy lambs," he said.
"However, remember lamb weights are much heavier in the east, so on a per head basis that is still big money for producers.
"The reason we are seeing the livestock price remain consistent is generally due to the lack of labour in abattoirs across the country."
Mr MacRury said WAMMCO was looking for "anyone who wanted to work" with training opportunities available for unskilled workers.
He said the value-adding of product had been somewhat hampered due to a shortage of people to do the work.
Nutrien Livestock stud and commercial sheep manager Tom Bowen said the inability to source a complete workforce in abattoirs was affecting their ability to work at full capacity.
Mr Bowen estimated meat processing facilities in WA could be down anywhere from 10 to 30 workers each day.
Like Mr MacRury, he put this down to a combination of COVID-19 and overall lack of people in the workforce.
It comes at a time when sheep have been coming into the market earlier than usual, off the back of an early season break and high canola prices.
Mr Bowen said as a result, it was likely the lamb killing season would be dragged out this year.
"With a fairly reasonable season across the State, I wouldn't be surprised if there were old season lambs still to be processed when the new season suckers come in," Mr Bowen said.
"This could mean old season prices are smashed, which would cause other problems."
Mr Bowen added that despite issues with labour shortages, the demand for and prices of lambs had remained firm.
He said the WA market was on par with its Eastern States counterparts, as average prices for store lambs ranged anywhere from 310c/kg to 330c/kg.
"Any sheep with weight and good condition are still being supported by the buying trade," he said.
"It is all local demand - buyers and abattoirs are still operating and doing a great job.
"The market is firm, but the biggest problem we are seeing is COVID and the lack of workers to get those abattoirs working at full-capacity."
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