But there are concerns about customer reaction.
EBLEX says the breeding flock stabilised last year, after a decline triggered by years of poor prices. And an exceptionally good spring this year has put UK production of sheepmeat up to a forecast 283,000 tonnes, against 277,000 last year – down from 307,000 in 2009.
Thanks to a shortage of imports, caused by New Zealand farmers reacting against the price trough, demand for UK meat remains high. Imports were 137,000 tonnes in 2009 and 121,000 in 2010 and are forecast to total only 107,000 tonnes this year. The picture is similar in the rest of Europe and UK meat is filling the gaps.
Debbie Butcher, senior market analyst at EBLEX, said: “Robust demand is likely to be sustained for the rest of the season and into 2012.”
However, she added: “Relatively high retail prices and the acute economic stresses experienced by many households are likely to mean growing pressure on UK lamb consumption.”
She said there was no doubt pork and chicken had gained at the expense of dearer meats. In 2009, the UK ate 345,000 tonnes of sheep meat. This year, the total looks like being more than 50,000 tonnes less. And only 30,000 tonnes of that decline can be accounted for by the loss of the cheaper options from New Zealand.
The big lamb sales season is gathering pace and 10,000 store and gimmer lambs, biggest entry of the year to date, went through Skipton Auction Mart on August 24.
The fixture also featured the annual show for pens of 50 Mule wethers and for the second year running, the champions were presented by Mark and Susan Harrison, who trade as V Verity & Son at Whitmoor Farm, West End, Summerbridge.
They sold the lambs for £67 a head (£59.80 last year). An entry of 8,775 store lambs achieved an across-the-board average of £61.67 per head. Gimmer lambs averaged £76. Kirkby Stephen reported up to £80.80 and 198p/kg for prime lambs on Tuesday and best-ever prices for cull ewes.
Jeremy Eaton, general manager at Skipton Mart, said 40 per cent of finished lambs were going to Europe and prices reflected confidence filtering down the line