Irish sheepmeat exports experienced record performance in 2021. The value of sheepmeat exports increased by 12% to €420m, with this performance occurring despite export volumes reducing by 9% to 69,000t.

Speaking at the annual Bord Bia Meat Mart seminar on Friday morning, sheepmeat and livestock sector manager Seamus McMenamin said that the value of EU exports grew by 15%, with some individual markets recording an increase in sales value to the tune of 42%.

France remains Ireland’s number one market in terms of both export volumes and overall value, with 2021 sales value increasing by 9% to over €128m.

The performance in high-value markets such as Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands continues to reach new heights, with the German, Swedish and Belgian markets growing in importance year-on-year.

Increased markets

The value of exports to the German market increased by 40% to €59.8m, while export values in the Swedish market increased by 22% to just over €40m and in the Belgian market by 28% to €36.7m.

The Danish market recorded the largest percentage increase, with export values increasing by 42% to €16.2m.

The Italian market had been an important light lamb market for many years, but, unfortunately, export volumes collapsed with the demise of this market almost a decade ago.

However, the market has been steadily growing in recent years and in 2021 recorded a 14% increase in sales value to reach €11.9m.

Finally, the Netherlands accounted for sheepmeat exports worth €10.1m in 2021 and this equates to an increase of 40% compared with 2020 levels.

Seamus said that growth in non-EU sales was driven by exports to the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Philippines and Singapore. Higher prices across the globe were underpinned by tighter supplies and solid market demand.

Production in the EU did increase marginally by 1%, but import volumes fell by 18%, owing to reduced imports from the UK and New Zealand.

Farmgate prices

There were also welcome increases in farmgate prices, with the average lamb/hogget price in 2021 recorded at €6.67/kg, up €1.43/kg or 27% on 2020 levels.

A significant tightening in Irish production contributed strongly to this increase in price, with the annual sheep kill falling from 2.88m head in 2020 to 2.72m head in 2021.

The fall in throughput was primarily driven by lower throughput in the first half of 2021, with 12% fewer hoggets slaughtered. Ewe and ram throughput reduced by 8%, while the lamb kill reduced marginally by 2%. Reduced imports from Northern Ireland contributed significantly to reduced hogget throughput. Overall, the number of hoggets/lambs imported for direct slaughter from Northern Ireland fell from 314,000 head in 2020 to 269,000 head in 2021.

There will be further analysis on over the weekend and featured in next week’s print edition.