Lamb prices are up: from the saleyards to the supermarkets

If we were to find a silver lining in Australia’s worst drought in living memory, it’s the record high lamb prices.

The saleyards in the central NSW town of Dubbo hogged the spotlight this week, setting the national record for lamb prices: $344 a head and weighing in at 82 kilograms on average.

The lambs belonged to Shanks Farms, a third generation family business, and were sold to Fletcher International Exports.

The previous record was set two weeks ago in Griffith NSW, selling heavy-weight lambs for $318 a head.

Many of you may be asking why the lamb prices are so high. Unfortunately this good news story ends here.

The drought had caused feed and fodder to become a hot commodity in eastern Australia, with the Shanks family telling the Daily Liberal even they had resorted to buying in feed for the first time.

According to the Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) market reports, light weight lambs are well-supplied this time of year while heavy-weight lambs are sparse, indicating that the high cost of feed is limiting producers’ capacity to finish stock.

“Put simply, the prices are up because of the drought. It’s a good time for people with heavy lambs and access to the grains to feed them,” Livestock & Property Agents Association’s General Manager Andy Madigan.

“New South Wales are lucky that Victoria is in such good condition to be buying stock lambs and finishing them off. They have food and water and we don’t.”

Victoria escaping the drought has given them the resources to afford NSW and QLD heavy weight lambs.

Supermarkets are also doing their bit by adjusting their supply demands to suit the feed the Australian livestock are consuming.

“Where possible, Coles looks for ways to work with suppliers to deliver an alternative product. For example, Graze suppliers, who would normally supply Coles’ grass fed range, have had to feed grain to their cattle so they’ve been able to supply into our grain-fed butcher program instead,” said Coles Supermarkets in a statement to AustralianFarmers.

The overseas appetite for lamb continues to grow, helping to keep the prices high despite the pressing dry times along the Australian eastern seaboard.

What does this mean for consumers?

At the moment red meat prices are down due to farmers selling off their stock as they are unable to afford to feed and sustain them.

Although it is tipped that when the drought eventually breaks, red meat prices will soar as farmers try to replenish their stock.

During the 2005-07 drought Australian grocery bills increased by 12 per cent, which was double the inflation rate.

Fortunately Australian shoppers haven’t felt the burden of the drought quite yet, but irrigated water is slowly drying up. If the rain doesn’t fall soon consumer’s wallets will also be feeling the impact of the drought.

Red meat prices are stable for now, but are expected to skyrocket once the drought breaks.

However Coles Supermarket aim to help farmers (their suppliers) through drought conditions and inevitably keeping prices down.

“The Coles livestock and fresh produce teams are in regular contact with suppliers to assist them in working through these drought conditions.

“Coles has recorded deflation in each of the past nine years as we reduce prices across the store, and we remain focused on continuing to lower the overall cost of a weekly shop for our customers.”

Andrea Martinello

Andrea Martinello

Andrea is the Community & Engagement Officer at the National Farmers' Federation.

1 comment

  • For those of us on the age pension, lamb and for that matter good cuts of beef are becoming unaffordable. Our doctors tell us we must or should keep red meat in our diet if we are to maintain our health and minimise our cost to the health services as we get older. I am an 80yo retired lamb and mutton producer.
    Why is it that mutton is not available to the Australian public? Lamb promotion portrays the upper and expensive part of the market. Mutton has been successfully promoted in the UK and is considered a valuable meat in many European countries. I am sure there are many Australians in my age group from all over the world who would appreciate a slightly cheaper sheep meat being made available to them.
    Chicken does become very tiresome.

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