The recently published Beef and Lamb New Zealand mid season outlook points towards a decline in New Zealand lamb production for the 2014 to 2015 season.

Analysing the figures Eoin Kelly of Bord Bia the 2014-15 export lamb throughput number is forecast to decrease 2.6% from the previous season to 19.8m head.

He says this is due largely to an increase in retention of non-trade hoggets, with the flock expected to show some small recovery in the year to June 30, 2015.

However, Kelly says much will depend on weather conditions, as the continued dry conditions could see lamb production lift.

Total sheep numbers for the year to June 30, 2014 decreased 4% on the previous season, totalling 29.6 million head.

Kelly says this decline was driven by decreases in both total hoggets (-7.1%) and breeding ewes (-2.6%).

In the North Island, provisional results show sheep numbers decreased 3.2% to 14.5m at 30 June 2014. The majority of the decrease was evident in northern regions, where there was an increase in carryover of lambs in 2013 in response to low per-head prices and their lighter condition due to drought.

South Island provisional results have indicated a decrease of 4.8% to 15.1m at 30 June 2014. This is due mainly to the continued dairy herd expansion, particularly in Canterbury and Southland.

Focusing on export volumes, Kelly says for the current season export production is forecast to decline 2.9%, driven by reduced slaughter numbers and lighter carcase weights.

He also says export value is expected to be helped somewhat by a weaker New Zealand dollar.

According to Kelly the anticipated decrease in lamb shipments for 2014-15 reflects expectations of higher retention of non-trade hoggets, with the overall flock expected to remain almost static to June 30, 2015.

However, it must be remembered that the production and exports could be higher if dry conditions persist into autumn in 2015.

The latest data available indicates that the total volume of lamb exported over the first four months of the current season decreased by 4.6%. However, this decrease in lamb volume was offset by a 9.5% rise in average value, resulting in the value of lamb meat exports increasing by 4.5%.