The analysis by B+LNZ showed that dry conditions and strong prices for lamb, mutton and beef in the December quarter of the 2017-18 season drove high processing volumes.
The average value per tonne for lamb, mutton and beef exports were at near record levels in the December quarter.
On the sheep side, B+LNZ forecast the total number of lambs available for processing in 2017-18 would be up 1.3% on the previous season. However, the number processed in the December quarter was up 13%, leaving 2.1% fewer lambs for the remainder of the season compared to 2016-17.
B+LNZ estimated the number of sheep available for processing in the January to September period of the 2017-18 season is down 17% compared to the previous season. The total number of sheep available for mutton in 2017-18 was forecast to be down 6.0% on the previous season. However, 15% more were processed in the December quarter, which is a record for the period.
Andrew Burtt, chief economist at B+LNZ, said: “International demand for lamb and mutton remains strong, particularly from China and the USA – New Zealand’s largest and third-largest single country markets for sheepmeat.”
Australian sheepmeat exports are forecast to decline in 2018. Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) projected Australia’s lamb exports to be down 4% and mutton exports down 6%.
Cattle down over five years
The total number of cattle available for the 2017-18 season is estimated to be even with the previous season, but down 3.7% on the five-year average.
However, 15% more cattle were processed in the December quarter, which meant 4.7% fewer cattle were available for the rest of the season, said Burtt.
“An increase in the number of cows and bulls processed – up 33% and 23% respectively – contributed to the higher number of cattle processed in the December quarter," he said. “The dry conditions for some dairy-producing regions drove some of the increased cow processing as farmers managed their feed stocks for the rest of the summer. The dry December quarter brought forward some of the bull processing for the same feed management reasons. The number of bulls processed has been generally increasing in recent seasons.”
B+LNZ estimated there were still 5.5% more bulls available for the remainder of the current season. Bulls were the only category of cattle or sheep that had more available for the rest of the season.
The number of heifers processed in the December quarter was even with the previous season, but the total number available for 2017-18 was forecast to be down 2.9%, leading to the number of heifers available for the remainder of the season expected to be down 3.8%.
The number of steers available for processing for 2017-18 was forecast to be down slightly – by 1.5% – on the previous season, and down 5.0% on the five-year average, due to a slight decrease in the number of steers born in recent seasons as a result of the decline in the number of beef breeding cows.
Steers processed in the December quarter were up 5.9%, which reduced the number available for the rest of the season by 3.7%.