The high level of demand for sheepmeat and record prices witnessed in recent months is being driven in the main by a sharp fall in production and sheepmeat availability right across Europe and further afield.

Figures published by the Agriculture Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) in the UK shows total EU sheepmeat production in 2023 fell by 6% or some 26,000t to 398,000t.

Production in Spain recorded the sharpest fall, reducing by 13,000t to 106,000t, while production in France fell by 6,500t to 73,000t. The AHDB reports that countries such as Greece, Italy and Portugal also recorded large declines on 2022 levels.

Sheepmeat production fell sharply in 2023 in many of the major sheep producing nations in Europe. Source: AHDB

As reported previously in the Irish Farmers Journal, changing weather patterns and abnormally high temperatures are affecting sheep production in Mediterranean countries, with intense heat and prolonged periods of drought lowering forage availability and bringing a higher risk of disease.

The European Commission is forecasting that sheepmeat production in the EU will fall by another 1% in 2024.

The market update highlights that tight supplies continue to fuel upward movement in farmgate prices.

Demand is being bolstered by religious festivals such as Ramadan and Easter, with the AHDB predicting that consumption is expected to remain stable for 2024 despite the cost-of-living pressures.