Tight lamb and cattle supply in the British market
The production cycle in the British cattle herd and the sheep flock has slowed down, which means elevated prices for beef and lamb in 2022. Data released by Defra on the throughput of cattle and prime lambs during 2021 suggests that the reduced numbers seen will have a knock-on effect on trading patterns during the coming months.
Cattle throughput at UK abattoirs last year was 2.7 million head – a total that was 5.7% lower than in 2020 and 4.3% below the five-year average - reaching the lowest level since 2015. This resulted in a 5.0% reduction in beef and veal production compared to the previous year.
At the same time, prime lamb throughput during each month of 2021 trended below year-earlier levels, leading to a significant reduction of 10.6% (or 1.4 million head) to a total of 11.7 million head when compared against 2020. Adult sheep numbers were also down by almost 20% on the year. As a result, the total volume of sheep meat also fell – down 10.5% on the year to 265,100 tonnes.
Glesni Phillips, Data Analyst at Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) said: “The decrease in cattle throughput at UK abattoirs in 2021 was not unexpected. Increased numbers were processed during 2020 and this led to fewer cattle on the ground. This was especially true for adult cattle which saw throughput fall by almost 6% on the year. It was also anticipated that fewer lambs would be sent for slaughter in 2021 due to the increased number of lambs processed earlier than usual ahead of the Brexit deadline in 2020.”
Looking at the current lamb crop, the throughput of lambs between May and December stood at 8.3 million head. This is 10.9% below the previous year and below what would be expected, given the known size of the lamb crop.
It has been widely reported that Brexit-related staff shortages at processing sites may have limited the processing capacity of some UK abattoirs. “It is not known whether the strong market prices will continue further into 2022. However, a significant number of old season lambs are likely to reach the market between now and Easter which will undoubtedly impact trading patterns. When considering cattle, figures from the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) suggest that the supply will remain tight for at least six months. During the subsequent 6-12 months, it seems that there will be an increase in the number of cattle available on the ground which will likely increase the competition on the market,” Mrs Phillips added.
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