Lamb markets see support early in summer monthsWritten by Saige Albert
The summer started with atypical support for the live, carcass and feeder lamb markets moving into the summer months.
“It’s not typical for us to start this early with market support,” said Brad Anderson, procurement director at Mountain States Lamb Cooperative (MSLC). “Generally, we’re still heavily into the old crop, California springs and lambs from Wyoming and Oregon, but this year, they’ve cleaned up faster than expected.”
This year’s trends resulted from a supply that shortened more quickly than expected, largely due to forecasting by East Coast lamb plants.
“This escalation doesn’t have anything to do with our consumer demands,” Anderson said. “We saw some of our competitors back east run out of lambs, so that moved the market up significantly.”
With fat lambs increasing, feeder lamb prices also moved up accordingly.
Companies in the East primarily source their lambs from the Midwest, which is a challenging market to test, Anderson explained.
“The average flock in the Midwest is less than 100 head. Those producers work independently, and it’s really hard to measure exactly what they’re doing – whether they decide to sell feeders early, retain them as fast, etc.,” he said.
Regardless of the cause, Anderson added, “We’re very, very current, and it looks like we’re going to stay that way.”
Demand for lamb has been a challenge for the sheep industry, but Anderson noted that work by the American Lamb Board (ALB) strives to highlight the superiority of American lamb.
“ALB is doing a lot in terms of local and source verified, and with new antibiotic directives coming out, a lot of consumers are starting to look at antibiotic-free lambs,” Anderson said. “MSLC is the largest supplier of antibiotic-free lambs in the nation, and we did close to 170,000 last year.”
ALB promotes American lamb, locally sourced products and more in an attempt to continue to sway customers toward a domestic product instead of imported lamb.
“Because of the strength of our dollar and lower prices, our biggest competitors are important,” Anderson said, highlighting that Australia and New Zealand imports are challenging. “If we’re going to lose customers, we’re going to lose them to imported products.”
Prices for lamb from Australia and New Zealand has also strengthened some recently.
“Whether that has to do with our dollar softening or tightening supply, we have seen some strength in import prices,” Anderson commented. “Also, there’s still an insurmountable amount of product in the freezer. It’s a lot, and we’re going to have to work through that.”
As summer progresses, Anderson said that lamb prices are likely to stay relatively high.
“Weights will be good, and yield grades will be good,” he said. “It should help that American lamb is a great quality product, and I think that markets could strengthen a little more.”
However, he notes that consumer demand is more difficult to predict.
“It’s yet to be seen if the consumer demand will follow that escalation in price,” Anderson commented. “I’m not sure if demand will reflect our price increases.”
He also noted that he sees profitability in the lamb feeding sector.
“Lamb feeders have not been profitable in the last three years due to the fact that when supply shortens, feeder and live prices escalate, then we stagnate and they can’t get lambs killed. That will be the challenge now, as well. We have to get enough supply but also keep lambs current so the feeders and producers can be profitable, as well as the packers.”
Anderson noted that MSLC’s acquisition of the JBS lamb plant has been beneficial to its membership, noting that the MSLC members should expect to stay current on a more consistent basis.
“It has also eliminated JBS in the marketplace buying feeders against our producers,” he said. “We will work hard as a more cohesive group to try to fill supply holes, as opposed to working as competitors.”