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Thursday, 14 January 2021 05:55

Drought hits season's lamb numbers

Written by  Peter Burke
B+LNZ chief economist Andrew Burtt. B+LNZ chief economist Andrew Burtt.

Drought in the North Island had a significant impact on the number of lambs tailed in the first half of this season.

According to Beef+Lamb NZ’s latest economic report, the total number of lambs tailed in the North Island was down 4.8% meaning a decline of 546,000 head to 10.8 million. This is in contrast to the South Island where the total number of lambs increased by 189,000 head, an increase of 1.6%, for a total lamb crop of 12.1 million

Overall, the report says total number of lambs produced this season is 357,000 head less than spring 2019. However, despite the problems with the drought, the overall picture is far from gloomy.

The actual total lambing percentage for the season was 130.3%, which is just 0.7% lower than last season. The word from industry is that while the number of lambs born was lower, the survival rate was higher than normal. B+LNZ also points out that while the average lambing percentage is slightly lower, 2019 was a high performing season.

B+LNZ chief executive Sam McIvor expects lamb and sheep export volumes to be more significantly impacted by the follow-on impacts of the drought, due to lower animal weights and the retention of sheep for breeding to rebuild stock numbers.

“Despite the challenges of 2020 including drought and Covid-19, sheep farmers demonstrated why they are the world’s best; their resilience and the agility of their farming systems has meant they’ve performed outstandingly and this should be a real point of pride for our sector,” he says

The report says that number of lambs available for processing for export markets this year is estimated to decrease by 4.5% to 18.25 million.

In the past season, the number of ewes put to the ram remained virtually the same as the previous season. However, it seems that hogget mating was off the agenda for many farmers with the number of lambs born to ewe hoggets down 22% on the 2019 spring.

The big drop was on the East Coast of the North Island where the number of lambs born to hoggets was down 53% on 2019.

The only region to show an increase in hogget mating was Marlborough/Canterbury and that was just a mere 1.9%.

In terms of lamb survival rates, B+LNZ says this was much better in the North Island, and quite good in much of the South Island. However, in contrast to the rest of the country, survival rates in Otago-Southland were poor due to unsettled spring weather.

The report by chief economist Andrew Burtt notes that many farmers are concerned about lower farm-gate prices due to global market uncertainty, which is a combination of Brexit and Covid 19 – particularly the logistics of getting product to market.

Burtt says farmers are also concerned about low wool prices and the competition of forestry for farmland.  He adds that the Government’s Essential Freshwater package is impacting on farmer morale and farmers are looking for clarity on what’s required of them under the new regulations and some guidance on how to meet these new rules.

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