A marginal reduction in EU sheep production was forecast for 2014 at the recent European commission working group for sheepmeat, which is expected to help prices according to Eoin Kelly, Business Analyst with Bord Bia.

In a Food Alert update he noted that sheepmeat output in the EU is forecast to contract by just under 1% in 2014 to approximately 916,000 tonnes, with most countries indicating a further decline in supplies for 2015.

Kelly said this decline in production is being largely driven by lower output in France, Spain and Germany. French production is expected to be down 2.5% with some recovery next year. However, increased UK and Ireland production is set to offset this decline somewhat.

Some further, albeit slower reduction in output is forecast for 2015. The reason for this is the declining breeding flock across a number of key producing countries such as Spain and Germany, with Spanish production set to decline a further 9% in 2015. However, this is set to be offset somewhat by a modest rise in production in France, the UK and Ireland due to increases in the breeding flock.

EU exports of sheepmeat and live animals continue to increase with exports up 34% to 74,467 tonnes in carcase weight equivalent in 2013 according to Kelly.

He said for the year to date exports are up over 20%, standing at 46,661 tonnes. Libya continues to be the main destination closely followed by Hong Kong, combined these accounted for over 60% of exports. Other destinations include Switzerland and North African countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Algeria.

Meanwhile he also added that higher imports were recorded into the EU in 2013, with shipments 5% higher at around 212,000 tonnes. New Zealand is the source for around 84% of these imports, with Australia accounting for approximately 10% of imports. For January to July this year New Zealand imports are down 7% to around 118,000 tonnes. However this reduction in New Zealand product has been compensated somewhat by an increase in Australian imports in the region of 22%, and an 11% increase in imports from Chile.

Kelly commented that looking ahead to 2015, the EU will continue to remain a net importer of sheepmeat. It is hoped that a modest reduction in output, a strong live trade and a forecast drop in New Zealand output will help price levels.