Tighter hogget numbers to bolster prices this spring
Hogget prices are expected to hold above €5/kg for the early months of the year as numbers continue to tighten.
While firm projections on hogget numbers are not available, farmer representatives are confident that finished stock will remain in short supply for the coming five months.
John Brooks of the ICSA said all the indicators pointed to a sharp fall-off in hogget numbers this spring.
The tighter supplies were due to heavy losses of newborn lambs as a result of the blizzards that hit the country last March, Mr Brooks explained, as well as higher abortion rates last spring, and an overall contraction in the ewe flock.
"Sheep mortality figures were up 30pc in Britain and Northern Ireland last spring. There are no official figures available here but is would be fair to assume that our flocks suffered similar losses," Mr Brooks said.
The increased numbers of dry ewes sold in the marts this year suggested that abortion rates were well up last spring, he added.
Taken together, these facts pointed to a sizeable fall-off in the hogget crop over the first half of the year.
Brendan Joyce of the INHFA agreed, saying: "Anecdotally, the feeling among farmers is that the numbers weren't there from the start of last year and they'll remain tight this spring."
Early estimates show the sheep kill fell last year by around 100,000hd. The total number of sheep killed was 2.84 million in 2018, back from 2.95 million in 2017. The lamb and hogget kill fell from 2.5 million in 2017 to 2.35 million last year. In contrast, the ewe kill increased from 444,000hd in 2017 to 483,000hd in 2018.
However, Bord Bia figures show that sheep throughput between January and April was broadly unchanged from 2017 to 2018 at around 720,000 head.
British exports and the strength of sterling will also impact the Irish hogget market, Declan Fennell of Bord Bia maintained. He pointed out that UK exports were back 30pc last year due to lower numbers and stronger domestic buying by the British supermarkets.
The level of lamb imports from New Zealand is a further variable which is difficult to predict, Mr Fennell said. New Zealand continues to focus on emerging export markets such as the Middle East and China. Exports to China grew by 30pc to 161,000 tonnes in 2017-18, while trade to the EU was up just 2pc to 107,000 tonnes.
The convergence of the Easter and Ramadan festivals is also expected to drive demand through April and early May. Easter Sunday falls on April 21, while Ramadan starts on May 6.
Meanwhile, more than 13,000 light lambs have been sold to Nordic and southern European markets so far this winter under the initiative by the INHFA and Kepak.
Between 600 and 700 lambs a week were moved before Christmas. The product is being marketed as Atlantic Hill Lamb, with farmers being paid close to French prices for suitable stock.
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