Lamb shortage, high prices
By Tom Collins
GUELPH The short supply of lamb and high demand is triggering higher prices at the sale barn.
In January 2014, a 65 to 79 pound lamb sold on average for $200 in Ontario. This year, a similar lamb sold in January for an average of $274.50, a 37 per cent increase.
“Our biggest issue right now is were still short product,” said Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency general manager Jennifer MacTavish. No kidding. Producers are far from filling demand. Ontario sheep producers supply just 22 per cent of all the lamb consumed in the province, which imports 18 million kilograms of lamb each year.
Ontario Sheep is working with University of Guelph researchers on a price predictability project to predict future lamb prices. MacTavish is hopeful it might convince producers to expand their farm operations, as its a bit of a gamble for a farmer to hold onto lambs instead of selling when prices are high.
“A lot of people wont expand because of cash flow,” said MacTavish. “There are certain things we can do as a producer group but at the end of the day, these are business decisions.”
Fraser Hodgson, a director with Ontario Sheep for district 1 (Essex, Kent, Lambton, Middlesex, and Elgin) explained that lamb prices were low for about two years and prices started rising last year. During those lows, a lot of producers left the industry and havent come back. There are plenty of small, part-time producers and those who raise sheep for additional income as part of a bigger farm operation and many part-timers fold their tents when times are tough.
The alternative is to put in more time and money to expand the operation. A successful full-time sheep farmer would need to raise about 500 sheep to make it worthwhile, said Hodgson, who farms at Lambton Shores.
Ontario Sheep is offering a master shepherds course, where larger sheep farms can learn how to expand more efficiently, said Hodgson. “Were trying to create a climate that will make it attractive for people to come into the industry or expand into the industry,” he said.