Forget the rumours that the EU has already shut the door on British lamb – there is still demand for export-type lamb with prices expected to rise in the coming weeks.

While values have slipped in recent weeks as increased numbers of heavyweight lambs came on the market; the 2018 lamb crop was well down on the year, which, coupled with a late Easter, is expected to see reduced supplies come April.

"There are a number of factors affecting the sheep trade at present, but it's not the lack of demand from the continent," said Stephen Kirkup, who owns a livestock procurement business in Northumberland and currently marketing upwards of 3000 deadweight lambs a week.

He added that following last year's record breaking sales which saw old season lamb hit £150 per head while the deadweight trade peaked at over £6.50 per kg, due to reduced supplies on the home market, many of the big processors are using more imports from New Zealand this year.

Add to that the retailers suppressing demand with little if any promotions, and the continued uncertainty surrounding Brexit making consumer spend cautious in the UK at this time, and he said demand had very much been 'hand to mouth' in recent weeks.

However, with future supplies well down following last year's severe weather at lambing time and a late Easter, prices are expected to rise.

"The continent does want British lamb. We are selling the same number of lambs to the continent that we always do at this time of year with more selling into Germany than France – there is nowhere else they can buy them from.

"They can get some new season from Spain when we get into March, but there's not much there and it's not as good," added Mr Kirkup, who regularly sends 25% of his weekly kill to the continent.

However, he admitted Veganuary has left it's mark on UK consumers, which coupled with a fall in consumer confidence, is hitting hard on beef and sheep farmers.

"It is hard work selling red meat anywhere at the minute, but there is a bit more optimism in the organic sector. People might be buying less meat, but what they are buying is perceived by them to be of better quality."

In saying that, while the next week or two could be uncertain, reduced supplies of old season lambs are expected to bolster trade going into April, provided the UK government can seal a deal with the EU before the end of March.

Provided Theresa May and the EU-26 leaders can shake hands on a deal, Mr Kirkup also remains confident for the sheep trade this year.

"Most people you speak to have kept fewer sheep compared to previous years and scanned lambing percentages appear to be anything from 10-15% down on the year, so there is going to be a shortage of all types of sheep this year," he added.

The first of the early markets this week have also been a bit more positive despite the large number of heavyweight lambs forward. On Monday, the total number of lambs sold through Scottish markets averaged 184.6p per live kg for 2815, down 1.1p per kg on the week albeit for 49% fewer, with the SQQ for 1669 levelling at 191.7p, up just over a penny.

Similarly, prices south of the Border fell half a penny with the total number averaging 184.5p for 6035 head, again a 68% reduction in numbers. The SQQ in England and Wales balanced at 192.5p for 3243.

Numbers also appear to be well down in Northern Ireland, with the weekly throughput in major processing plants for the week ending February 23 falling to 4124 – the lowest kill recorded since April 2018, and reduced numbers being sold through the live ring too.

Harrison and Hetherington's Newtown St Boswells enjoyed the best of the day's trading in Scotland, selling 1076 lambs to average 192.2p, a rise of 8.5p on the week, with an SQQ just shy of 203p, up 11.7p for 646.

Caledonian Marts' sale at Stirling on Tuesday was also well up with the overall average for 1083 cashing in at 193.1p, up 11.5p per kg on the week, with the SQQ rising 15p to 201.3p.