Responding to recently released figures from B+LNZ Ltd’s Economic Service Barber points out that last year’s 4.4 percent reduction led sheep numbers to an all time low and that this season saw a bounceback of 2.6 percent, largely from an increase in ewe hoggets.
“Providing adverse weather doesn’t cause larger than anticipated lamb losses, there is every reason to expect one million more lambs on the ground this season,” he suggests, adding that this will prompt the question as to whether the markets can absorb the extra lambs, given the flat state of most overseas economies and the significant amount of inventory clogging up the pipeline.
“Past experience suggests that the pipeline will free up, so buyers will hopefully start to place orders again in the not too distant future. In addition, the growth last season meant that farmers held back stock and continued to put weight on. At the same time, meat exporters failed to give the right market signals soon enough, because they had to keep prices high to secure throughput,” explains Barber.
“Assuming the law of climatic averages reasserts itself, the coming season will return to more normal conditions. Therefore, the conflicting messages of procurement and market price will not be so far out of kilter again and supply and demand will be more complementary.
“If not, we will have to pray for an outbreak of rational behaviour from producers and processors!”
Barber notes that the changing nature of land use in New Zealand can be seen from the fact that the North Island is now home to more sheep than the South Island for the first time in living memory. At the same time, the South Island, assisted by irrigation, now has 35 percent of the country’s dairy cows, “a proportion which was inconceivable 15 years ago,” he says.