Bigger not necessarily better for Australian lamb

Global - sheep TD Farm
COST: Bigger is not necessarily better for Aussie lambs. (Photo: CSIRO)

AUSTRALIAN lamb prod-ucers have been told the concept of “bigger is better” may risk under-supply to some of Australia’s most valuable lamb markets.

Meat and Livestock Australia chief marketing officer Lisa Sharp told the LambEx convention producers need to be highly aware of consumer demand for lighter, leaner lambs.

She said the trend of supplying larger lambs means the industry is potentially missing out on tens of millions of dollars annual profit.

Smaller households and ch-anging eating habits are driving domestic demand for smaller lambs, a move also seen in the valuable European Union market, she says.

Sharp says lamb carcase weights have increased by an average of 190 grams a year over the past 10 years resulting in large carcases with reduced average lean meat yield. This has led to challenges for processors, butchers and retailers supplying markets demanding smaller cuts.

In 2017-18, 14 per cent of Australian processed lambs had 26kg or above carcases – in 2000 that percentage was non-existent.

With 70 per cent of all sheep meat exported – 60 per cent of lamb – Sharp says understanding consumer demand of such a multitude of markets has never been more important.

While larger lambs are sought by certain markets such as the United States, where lamb remains a niche but growing product, regions such as the Middle East and Europe demand a lamb similar to the Australian domestic market. If greater access is gained in Europe, demand will far outstrip Australia’s lighter carcase supply.

“To see sustainable returns, it is important to understand what makes the industry the most profit with lighter, leaner lambs sought by many high value markets,” Sharp says.

“The cost of overfat lambs is currently borne by processors but ultimately it is lost value for the industry.”

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