Farm Ireland

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Lamb retains a privileged position due to its links to religious festivals


Declan Fennell

Sheep farmers are well versed in the religious calendar - with Easter, Ramadan and the Eid al-Adha festival marked in months in advance.

Prices have stabilised and are likely to remain firm over the next few weeks as Ramadan is proving timely with the Muslim holy month beginning around June 6 at a time when mid-season lamb production is entering full flow, while EID falls on September 11 this year.

Yet, there is something else that farmers will have to bear in mind over the next few years as Ramadan is arriving two weeks earlier every year.

Beyond 2019 both Easter and Ramadan are going to be converging, with just one week separating them in 2021, which means a significant opportunity for farmers but also a challenge to meet the peak demand in a short space of time.

In Ireland the peak production of lamb tends to be the highest in the weeks ahead of EID, with the number of head of lamb processed surpassing 70,000hd over the past three years. Among all the options consumers have nowadays for protein, lamb does still hold a privileged position with its long-running traditional link to religious festivals.

Sheep meat continues to be the protein of choice for Muslim consumers which means a year-round demand in some of our key export markets such as the UK and France.

Worldwide the 1.6 billion Muslim population is growing and expected to reach 2.2 billion globally by 2030, or 26pc of the global population. With over 44 million Muslims in Europe, they also have a younger profile than other Europeans. Now the new season lamb is flowing, while the hogget numbers are tightening up. After an exceptional month in May, the lamb crop is looking good and all the indicators are pointing towards a good 2016.Lamb prices have struck an average of €5.19/kg so far this year. If you look at the figures, it is back on the record highs achieved last year by around 8c/kg, at a time when production throughputs are up 6pc on last year, equivelent to an additional 40,000hd. To get a proper perspective on it, the price should be looked at over the past five years where we saw an average price of €5.01/kg between 2012 and 2016.

Prices are still strong but the fall in sterling is impacting on the value of exports. The oil prices have begun to rise in recent weeks yet the long-running trough has had a significant impact on the buying power of nations in the Middle East and North Africa.

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During 2013 in the lead up to Ramadan, Ireland exported about 20,000 live sheep to Libya. Yet now the unstable regime in Libya means security of payment is an issue, which has resulted in less Spanish imports going into North Africa.

The Spanish have been looking for alternative markets, which has seen them send more produce into the already difficult French market where there is a concentration on domestic produce. When you look at all the factors together it is a challenging marketplace.


The export trade historically involved shipping entire carcases to the two principal markets of France and the UK. Price returns were largely determined by market actions, which were controlled by a relatively small number of importers. In recent years, the industry has broadened its product portfolio by moving towards more value added/primal products.

With a great emphasis now on delivering primal cuts into key retail and food service across the Continent the emphasis on delivering an ideal carcase weight of 18-21kg is becoming ever more important.

In the first three months of the year, we've seen exports surge 20pc to over 10,157t valued at €59m, compared with 8,387 in 2015.

The strong performing export markets include Belgium, Sweden and UK. However, sales to France are also up marginally.

However, New Zealand are showing a renewed interest in the European market. As despite a fall-off in New Zealand lamb production, more lambs were exported into the European market, with less produce destined for China.

Bord Bia has a new series of promotional activities underway to match the peak supplies of new season lamb from this month onwards, with consumers encouraged to buy lamb carrying the Bord Bia quality mark.

Securing market access to countries such as the US and China remain a priority and Bord Bia is working closely with the Agriculture Department on this important matter.

Both would be complimentary markets, as the US demand would be mainly for the higher value cuts while Chinese demand would be for offal.

Declan Fennell is from the meat and livestock division of Bord Bia

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