Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Numbers jump in latest lamb crop report

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Half a million more on NZ paddocks after helpful autumn and spring.
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The number of lambs born this year increased 2.6% or 526,000 to 20.9 million, bucking the trend of the past few years.

The increase is due to better lambing percentages that have offset the slight decrease in breeding ewes this year, according to the 2023 Lamb Crop Report from Beef + Lamb New Zealand (BLNZ).

There were significant weather challenges earlier in the year, but autumn was particularly kind, ensuring breeding ewes were in prime condition and yielding good pregnancy scanning results across the country.  

In spring there were favourable conditions, leading to a strong lambing percentage of 129.9% – a 4.8 percentage point increase from last year – which offset a 1% reduction in the number of ewes to produce a strong lamb crop. But the report says the optimism stemming from these figures is dampened by the financial reality faced by NZ sheep and beef farmers at present.  

On-farm costs remain high rise and sheepmeat prices, in particular, remain stubbornly low due to oversupply from Australia and weak conditions in key markets like China, which means many farmers will not make a profit this year. Beef remains steady.

BLNZ chief executive Sam McIvor said many farmers are struggling, and although the lambing season results should be a reason to celebrate, profitability is a real challenge. 

“The sector is resilient, however, and has made it through hard times before and has come out the other side even stronger. Farmers know there are economic cycles and they’re agile in responding by looking at every part of their expenditure to ensure it is delivering value. 

“The strong lamb crop is a testament to the skill of our farmers and will come as a welcome morale boost as we move into a possible drier period in some regions.” 

Many farmers have indicated that they plan to market lambs earlier than usual this year, aiming to have more lambs processed pre-Christmas.

This is driven to a large degree by weather forecasts of a potential drought due to El Niño, although so far it has been wetter than usual.  

“Weather is something farmers are used to navigating. The real challenges for farmers the last few years have come from spiralling costs and the challenging global market situation, as well as fears of further increased costs from regulation.”

McIvor said they will keep working with industry organisations to ensure the new government delivers on its promises for a more enabling and supportive environment for farmers.  

The response so far from the government has been encouraging, he said, but it will be about getting the detail right. 

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