Despite the ongoing challenges in the exportation of lamb since Brexit, and the opening up of trade barriers on a global scale, sheep farmers can look forward to a positive future with increased demand from further afield – provided the processors are willing to specialise in various cuts for individual countries.

That was the good news story from a National Sheep Association Breakfast webinar with Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board international development and strategic insight managers, Dr Phil Hadley and David Swales.

“Exports will always underpin prices and while the UK sells mostly carcases, selling bits of carcases to individual markets is how to bring in the biggest premiums," said Dr Hadley.

"The UK is lucky to have high domestic demand at present, but we also produce lamb traditional family farms and lamb that is renowned for its taste and quality. There is a great future for UK lamb here and abroad,” he said.

Backing up these statements, Mr Swales added: “There has been a long-term decline in the consumption of lamb in the UK, but the sheep trade has benefitted from Covid, with a rise in domestic consumption during lockdowns,” said Dr Hadley.

“The food service markets suffered, but the supermarkets have done ever so well with more people eating and cooking at home. The take away market and companies like Deliveroo have really boomed over the last couple of years and that is where the lamb trade really benefitted with domestic demand for sheep meat buoyant.”

Looking further afield and ahead, both remain confident for the future due to emerging markets in the Middle East, Asia and South America.

“There is huge potential if we can access market opportunities,” said Mr Swales. “There is a massive explosion of middle class consumers out there who are enjoying increased economic growth and have more disposable income to spend on dairy and meat products which their own domestic systems will not be able to keep up with,” he said.

Commenting on the recent trade deals with other countries they said Australia and New Zealand at present are of little threat to UK lamb exports, when they both concentrate on the more lucrative market close by in China.

As it is, New Zealand can export up to 60,000tonnes of lamb tariff free to the UK but has been well below that figure for a number of years when there is more margin to be obtained exporting closer to home.

However, they warned that the Chinese market can be volatile and can change at the drop of a hat.

Of greater interest, the opening up of export markets to the US, could be worth up to £37m to UK sheep farmers over the next five years, they said, provided more work is done in abattoirs and meat processing plants to concentrate on the type of lamb consumed in the States.

“America will never be a huge volume market for lamb, but there is such a lot of potential when it is such a high value market. The challenge for the industry is the main export for lamb at present is in whole or half carcases to the EU, but to break into new markets, the processing sector will have to specialise more in specific cuts and such markets won’t spring up overnight.

“We need the processing secotor to open up to new challenges and opportunities in emerging markets to target individual cuts to individual countries.”

Mr Swales did nevertheless admit that addressing such issues is hugely problematic at present given the shortage of skilled labour and supply chain issues.

“In the next five to 10 years there will be big opportunities, if we can get into these countries with the right trade deals,” he concluded.

Closer to home, prime old season lamb prices remain strong this week again, with webinar chairman, Alastair Sneddon, who manages Bakewell Auction Market, for Bagshaws, pointing out that their sale sold to a top of 327p per kg, or £171 per head, with the SQQ cashing in at 273p for a mixture of hill and lowland breeds. Cull ewes averaged £110 per head.