The sheep trade at the higher end of the market has burst into life in the last week.

Producers with high numbers on hand and offering large batches in excess of 80 to 100 lambs are being coveted by factory agents keen to secure these supplies and put themselves in a strong position to tie into future supplies.

Prices of €6.50/kg have been commonplace in this regard, with sweeteners thrown into the mix with regards carcase weight limits being increased to 22.5kg and even 23kg in isolated cases, while allowances on transport costs or free carriage is also prevalent.

Top prices on Wednesday were reported at €6.60/kg where competing agents got embroiled in a bidding war, with agents now willing to compete with greater intensity outside of their normal catchment area. This is leaving a widening differential between prices negotiated at the top end of the market and where general producers are trading.

Base quotes for this week are 10c/kg higher in the main and range from €6.15/kg to €6.30/kg, leaving quality assured (QA) lambs trading from €6.25/kg to €6.40/kg, depending on where you are located.

Groups and sellers with greater negotiating power are achieving returns of €6.45/kg to €6.50/kg, with producer groups once again commenting that base quotes are not reflective of the market and are leaving group members exposed to losing lambs.

Some groups are negotiating a higher base price than their payment mechanism to safeguard supplies.

Northern trade

Mart prices are driving the fat lamb trade in Northern Ireland, with agents sourcing numbers for plants south of the border extremely active.

This leaves northern plants with little option but to increase prices. Base quotes have strengthened by 5p, with 500p to 505p/kg (€6.27 to €6.33/kg inc VAT) on offer, but factory agents are paying 510p/kg (€6.39/kg) and above to keep pace with the live ring.

Lambs shipped from Northern Irish plants for direct slaughter in southern plants increased by close on 600 head to 9,076, making it the third-highest import figure of northern lambs this year.

The trade in Britain is also climbing weekly, with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) reporting prices increasing by 6p/kg to £5.28/kg.

With the value of sterling increasing to 84.3p to the euro, this is the equivalent of €6.27/kg.

French prices of €7.56/kg are 56c/kg higher, while New Zealand prices of €5.69/kg are €1.66/kg higher. Irish and British prices are €1.25/kg higher.