Lamb production set for another record year

Penned lambs in Victoria

Australia’s sheep flock has come a long way in a short time, bouncing back from record lows to a forecast of 78.75 million head in 2023. Meat and Livestock Australia’s (MLA) latest sheep industry projections (the first in six months), expect this to be a record year for sheep and lamb production, with plenty of room left for growth. MLA hasn’t made any price predictions this time around but they highlight export opportunities coming from a lower NZ flock and trade opportunities with the UK.

Sheep numbers rose an estimated 7% year-on-year in 2022, and are expected to increase a further 3.6% this year, bringing them to their highest levels since 2007. This growth is expected to plateau in the longer term, with 2025 flock numbers forecast to be just 3% above 2022 levels, or pretty much on par with 2023. The previous projections (released in July 2022), only looked out as far as 2023, but the flock numbers for last year and this year haven’t changed, meaning growth has continued as expected. Interestingly to note, is the prediction that the flock is set to grow in all sheep-producing states, with NSW and Victoria to have less significant growth than SA, WA, Tasmania, and Queensland – likely because of the level of growth they’ve already experienced.

Sheep and lamb production is the figure which has increased since the previous projections, from 745,000 tonnes (forecast in July) to 762,000 tonnes forecast for 2023. The prediction for 2022 stayed the same at 702,000 tonnes, which was an increase of 11% year-on-year. Lamb production reached a record high in 2022 and is set to do so again in 2023 if the forecast eventuates and it lifts another 3.5%. Lamb slaughter, which lifted 9% year-on-year in 2022, will also rise again in 2023, however just below 3%, with increased carcass weights making up the difference. Much of the rise in lamb slaughter is set for the first six months of 2023, as held over 2022-drop lambs hit the market.

Mutton production and sheep slaughter both jumped 17% from 2021 to 2022, and it will ramp up moving forward, according to MLA. Sheep slaughter will be up nearly 1.5 million head this year, to 7.6 million head, and keep rising to 9.48 million head by 2025 – which would be 55% higher than last year’s total. If this eventuates, 2025 mutton production would be back to 2014 levels. Sheepmeat volumes are set to be 25% higher this year, which is about 5000 tonnes more than forecast in the last projections. And while lamb exports broke records, it was mutton exports that experienced the biggest growth last year, up 33% (shipped weight) on 2021. This will rise close to 20% further by 2025. 

What does it mean?

All this increased supply will keep a lid on much upward movement in the sheep and lamb market in the short term, as well as putting plenty of pressure on processor capacity. However, it will also mean there will be plenty of product to fill markets, both existing and new, enabling further growth for the industry. The Australian-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is set to be ratified this year and China should emerge from its Covid-lockdowns, creating opportunity, especially as the NZ flock has significantly declined.

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Key Points

  • The sheep flock is set to grow more than 10% from 2021 to 2023, reaching its highest numbers in 15 years.
  • Lamb production and export are set for a second consecutive year of record highs.
  • Sheep slaughter and mutton production to rise significantly out to 2025.

Click on figure to expand

Click on figure to expand

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Data sources: MLA, ABS, Mecardo

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