Farm Ireland

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Why Irish lamb has got an unexpected boost in UK sales since Brexit

Roast Leg of Lamb
Roast Leg of Lamb
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

Despite warnings over the impact of Brexit on the agri-food sector Irish lamb exports to the UK are up significantly this spring, according to latest figures from the Bord Bia.

Boosted by a dramatic fall in New Zealand lamb on the UK market it says exports from Ireland were up by almost 7% in the first three month of 2017.

According to Declan Fennell, of Bord Bia a number of other factors also has contributed to the increase including an increase in Irish production of lamb with is back near record highs of 2009.

However, developments in UK/NZ trade was a key factor in the boost to Irish exports. He highlights currency exchange rate movements between Sterling and the New Zealand dollar which has seen Kiwi lamb 19% more expensive on the EU market. Futher, New Zealand trade with China has increased substantially up some 30% year to date.

It comes as here at home Tesco has come under fire from farmers for in their view undermining premium spring lamb producers by offloading spring lamb at 'unsustainably' low prices in shops.

Irish Cattle and Sheep Association sheep chairman John Brooks said Tesco is currently selling leg of spring lamb at what he described as a ‘ridiculously low price’ of €8.69/kg.

Spring lambs on grass. Photo O'Gorman Photography.
Spring lambs on grass. Photo O'Gorman Photography.

“This can only be described as below cost selling,” he said and added that the move will have the effect of “putting farmers out of business”.

ICSA is calling for this practice to stop immediately. Brooks says farmers need at least €7/kg for high cost early spring lamb systems and allowing for processing costs, it is clear that a retail price of €8.69/kg is unsustainable.

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“Meanwhile, retailers seem to have no problem getting €33/kg for farmed salmon,” he said.

Commenting on the ICSA claims a spokesperson for Tesco Ireland said the promotion was planned as part of our nationwide introduction of Spring Lamb and was fully funded by Tesco and added that the promotion is short term and runs for 10 days from May 14-23.

UK imports

In total, UK imports of sheep meat recorded another decline in March, continuing the downward trend which has been apparent since the middle of last year.

Total imports of sheep meat totalled 10,500 tonnes in March, a decrease of 20% compared to the previous year, according to the AHDB.

It says while this appears to be a large year on year decline, the timing of Easter has played a pivotal role in the demand for lamb so far this year.

 In 2016, Easter fell into the month of March, whereas this year it was in April, resulting in a different time scale for demand.

AHDB says this decline was mainly driven by a fall in shipments coming from the UK’s largest supplier, New Zealand.

Volumes totalled 8,000 tonnes, down by 29% year on year.

Production forecasts from Beef and Lamb New Zealand show a decline in overall production, coupled with strong demand from other markets such as China, therefore the lower exports do not come as a surprise.

Despite volumes declining, the AHDB says average unit price rose by 15% compared to the corresponding month in 2016, with the total value of imports totalling £50.6 million.

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