THIS year's UK lamb crop is set to decline on last year's levels, with the Agricultural and Horticulture Development Board predicting that numbers will stand at around 17m head in 2018, a drop of 6%, or 1.1m less lambs, compared to that of last year.

While last year's UK lamb crop was exceptionally high at an estimated 18.1m head, year-on-year declines were always to be expected but perhaps not as sharp as we've seen.

Of the 2018 lamb crop, AHDB is forecasting that overall 12.9 million head will come forwards for slaughter between January 2018 and May 2019, but how many have already come forwards?

AHDB have estimated that around 14m came forward for slaughter between January 2017 and May 2018, and that overall, 12.9 million head from 2018's crop will come forward for slaughter between January 2018 and May 2019. The latest figures from Defra show that on the year to September, 9.1m clean sheep (including 4.8m new season lambs and 4.3m old season lambs remaining from the 2017 lamb crop) have been slaughtered, producing a 4% decrease or 340,000 less lambs year-on-year.

On a more promising note, estimates show that around 5% or 210,000 more old season lambs were slaughtered in 2018 compared to the previous year, however, new season throughputs have fallen behind by as much as 10% or 555,000 head and are also trending below 2014, 2015 and 2016 levels.

It's forecasted that slaughterings will continue to be behind year earlier levels during both quarter four of 2018 and quarter one of 2019, with quarter four slaughterings set to drop by 7% or £260,000 head on the year which is 6% or 190,000 head more than quarter three of this year. First quarter slaughter is already forecasted to be 12% (370,000 head) below year earlier levels.

The continuing tight supply of lambs at the start of 2019 may offer some support to farmgate prices however, unlike this year, with unexpected weather woes, the industry is more likely to be prepared for tight supplies and take action beforehand, which could ultimately avoid price effect.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, at least one major processor is to punish producers heavily for supplying which it claims to be overweight lambs. According to sources in the trade, any lamb which is presented over 22.5kg will incur a 50p per kg weight penalty, while any lamb over 25kg will suffer a £1.00 per kg weight penalty. John Fyall, chairman for NSA Scotland, said: "The trouble is, there is a two to three week waiting list for lambs going to slaughter. This means lambs weighing 42kg will easily put on 0.2-0.4kg per day, leaving them overweight." He also pointed out that some abattoirs are sourcing New Zealand lamb because they don't want to expose the high prices of last year.