International appetite for Aussie lamb remains buoyant

Zach RelphCountryman
Meat and Livestock Australia’s latest findings forecast lamb exports to reach 268,000 tonnes shipped weight for 2019.
Camera IconMeat and Livestock Australia’s latest findings forecast lamb exports to reach 268,000 tonnes shipped weight for 2019. Credit: Danella Bevis

Sheep producers are relishing mounting global demand for Australian sheepmeat, underpinning record lamb and mutton prices nationwide, new findings show.

Meat and Livestock Australia’s latest Sheep Industry Projections, released on Tuesday, have increased forecasted lamb exports to 268,000 tonnes shipped weight for 2019.

The revisal comes as international demand bolsters sustained high saleyard sheepmeat prices, with lamb selling to a WA record of $289 a head at Katanning Regional Saleyards in June.

Australia’s lamb slaughter has also been revised higher on the previous predictions and is expected to reach 21.6 million head to mark a year-on-year decline of 5 per cent.

MLA senior market analyst Adam Cheetham noted overseas markets’ sheep and lamb demand had outweighed domestic availability, as many key producing regions endure prolonged dry conditions.

“Prices across all categories reached record levels during winter,” he said.

“The national saleyard trade lamb indicator powered through 900¢/kg at the beginning of July and ultimately reached a peak of 950c/kg, 9 per cent above the high achieved in September 2018.

“Once conditions improve, strong prices for both sheep and lambs are likely to see many producers begin to rebuild their flocks after a long period of destocking.

“Increased restocker activity will apply further competitive pressure to processors looking to fulfil export demand.”

China and the United States of America have firmed as Australia’s top sheepmeat export markets.

The MLA forecast reported Asia’s rapidly emerging pork shortage from on the back of the African swine fever epidemic had supported demand for lower-priced mutton in China.

While the US trails China in terms of volume, the country remains Australia’s most valuable lamb market. The US takes a major portion of leg and loin cuts and represented 28 per cent of total sheepmeat export value for the year-to-July, with China in second place at 19 per cent.

Mr Cheetham also added Australian lamb production this year was set to fall 3 per cent year on year to 495,000 tonnes carcase weight.

“The decline in production is due to the considerable drop in lamb slaughter but will be partially offset by increasing carcase weights,” Mr Cheetham said.

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