The future market opportunities are quite bright for sheep farmers, according to Bertie Mannion Procurement Manager in Kepak’s Athleague plant.

Speaking at Sheep 2015, he said that more markets have opened up to Irish lamb in recent years.

New Zealand, he said, has not been as big of an exporter to the EU in the last two years.

“New Zealand has the capability to export about 226,000t per year to the EU. For the last two years it sent less than 70% of that.”

China has been the major factor, according to Mannion; as a country it now takes about 30% of the world’s traded sheepmeat. This compares to about 10% five years ago.

“China is the market New Zealand and Australia are now targeting, rather than supplying into Europe.

“That’s good for us,” he said.

Sheep Numbers

Mannion noted that sheep numbers in Ireland have fallen substantially in the last 25 years, from 4.5m ewes in the 1990s to about 2.5m ewes now.

“If it goes lower than it is now it’s not sustainable really. We need to keep output at today’s level and try and increase it a little bit if we can.”

According to Mannion, more orderly marketing of lambs as they become fit is key.

“We can market lambs better when they are presented within the ideal weight range and fat cover; these two characteristics are related to each other

“It’s difficult to market over-finished lambs as the consumer is ever more discerning”

He outlined that in the past a lot of farmers produced very early lambs and said they probably didn’t make a profit on them, for a variety of reasons.

“People are now generally lambing in late February and March. The same is happening in the UK and Northern Ireland.”

All those lambs are coming fit together, he said and this puts pressure on the trade- especially if the lambs are over-finished.