Beef, lamb exports near peak

GERARD HUTCHING
Last updated 05:00 18/07/2014

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New Zealand beef and lamb exports are at almost record levels for the first nine months of trade this season.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand figures show lamb exports reached $2.06 billion for the nine months to June, despite volume dropping by 3.6 per cent and the disadvantage of a strong dollar.

The buoyant meat export figures are in contrast to recent slumps in dairy prices. In a shock fall, dairy prices dropped 8.9 per cent at the latest Global Dairy Trade auction earlier this week and are down about 35 per cent from recent peaks.

Beef + Lamb figures for the nine months show lamb exports to Europe fell by 5.9 per cent, but rose to Asia by 2.4 per cent. In dollar terms, beef and veal exports were worth $1.85b. Tonnages increased by 4.4 per cent to 312,700 tonnes, the second highest export weight recorded. Lamb value was up by 10.5 per cent, mutton by 32.1 per cent and beef and veal by 5.8 per cent.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand chief economist Andrew Burtt said the value of lamb exports had risen even while volumes had dropped.

"We now have generally lower volumes but higher values, in spite of the exchange rate being between seven and eight per cent higher than last year," he said.

Beef and veal exports to North Asia averaged $6230 per tonne, while the average value was $5550 for South Asia and $5280 for North America.

"There is more prime beef going into Asia than into the US, which has a lot of its own prime beef. We produce a lot of lean beef for the US market that is ground to produce mince, and mixed with other cuts," Burtt said.

Total mutton exports were worth $429.2 million, with much of this in carcass form for the Chinese market. On average, mutton carcasses fetched $4650 a tonne, by comparison to more valuable boned-in cuts ($5100 a tonne) or boneless cuts ($7330 per tonne).

By comparison with the previous nine months, more mutton was processed for export.

This was partly because more ewes were killed early in the season, but was also because of dairy conversions.

Burtt said between 70-80 dairy conversions had started in June 2013, and some sheep and beef farmers had switched to growing maize for dairy cattle, or were feeding young dairy heifers themselves.

He said he would not be surprised if future conversions were delayed or even stopped, following the fall in dairy prices.

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