With Boris Johnson elected as the new prime minister last week, Brexit is definitely on the cards again, but we cannot get away from the fact that the recent uncertain few months had caused prime lamb prices seeing their sharpest rise at this time of year for some time.

As 2019 comes to an end, so far 7.8m lambs have come forward from the 2019 lamb crop – which is up 6% (440,000 head) on the year. Much of this increase has been swayed by the Brexit deadline, which was originally at the end of October, as farmers pushed lambs forward quickly due to the uncertainty and no one wanting to risk keeping them any longer than need be.

It was also helped by the fact that a lot of lambs had enjoyed a good summer, with plenty of grass around. This was also a factor in lambs being ready for slaughter quicker than last year, when drought had hit growth in grass and livestock.

In the year to date, the production total of 280,800 tonnes is up 7% on the year, which has been driven by both increased lamb kill and also heavier carcase weights, associated with the ‘good doings’.

According to AHDB, the GB deadweight NSL SQQ averaged 410.9p per kg for the month of November and it was also reported during the month that there were not enough lambs available to cope with the demand that was coming forward.

Farmgate prices have also been strengthening for Scottish prime lamb producers since mid-October, which have also resulted in a producer climb of 23% to around 194p liveweight, an increase of 7% on last year’s prices, according to the latest market analysis by Quality Meat Scotland, QMS. This strength in the Scottish market is also present in the wider European markets where the average price is also 7% higher than a year ago.

“Producer prices in New Zealand, for example, are 16% higher than a year ago and although volumes reaching the market in New Zealand are increasing seasonally, at current exchange rates, New Zealand producers are receiving in the order of 440 to 450kg deadweight – slightly more than Scottish producers.

“During October and November, New Zealand is reported to have shipped 25% more lamb to China than last year and at a price around 33% higher.

“Not surprisingly, they have reduced deliveries to Europe and particularly the UK to help meet the demand from China where the prices they are receiving have climbed almost to the same level as the prices paid by UK buyers,” said Stuart Ashworth, Director of Economics Services at QMS.

In the UK, along with the strengthening prices of prime lambs, ewe slaughtering has also been running at 4% more than last year.

“With the UK lamb kill between June and the end of November being 190,000 head higher than last – a figure that is greater than the indicated growth in the lamb crop in the June census – supplies for the remainder of the marketing year are likely to tighten,” added Mr Ashworth.

For the hogg finishing season after January, things are looking better than they might have done in the face of a hard Brexit. While export demand could suffer, there is no doubt that world-wide increases in meat protein prices as a result of the huge number of pigs being killed in China due to African swine fever, will help bolster prices in the UK.

Marks and Spencer and Waitrose supermarkets have already announced that they do not plan to import chilled New Zealand lamb this year and instead replace it with UK-sourced sheepmeat. This should help prop up in the UK trade, even if our exports to the continent fall.