PRICES are certain to drop from last season's record highs as the sucker lamb trade gains momentum heading into spring, according to Southern Australian Livestock general manager Bruce Redpath.
The first of the South Australian sucker sales was held earlier this week at Murray Bridge with lambs selling to $117, or about $4.50 a kilogram to $4.60/kg carcaseweight.
Small numbers were also sold at the SA Livestock Exchange at Dublin and Mount Pleasant.
Mr Redpath, Naracoorte Combined Agents Association immediate past-chairman, said producers were in for a tougher year.
"We won't see $6/kg again this year," he said.
"If prices could remain at the $4.80-$5/kg mark that would be the perfect situation.
"But there are plenty of lambs around, as there were good lambing percentages and the quality will be there as the season progresses."
Mr Redpath said the price highs of the previous two seasons had created problems with overseas demand for lamb.
The high Australian dollar had also added to export lamb price concerns.
Mr Redpath said while it was still a few weeks before South East sucker lambs would begin to be sold in any type of volume, some lambs from the Mallee had already been sold for $4.80/kg over-hooks, equivalent to $100-plus a head.
"It's a bit early for us (in the SE)," he said.
"But I imagine that $4.80-$5/kg is where prices will start at, then once the big flush of lambs come through prices will come back again.
"But once numbers drop, prices will become dearer as we head towards Christmas."
Processing space was also expected to have an influence on prices.
The lamb price drop was also expected to influence ewe prices, particularly in the off-shears season later in the year.
"If lambs are not getting $150 to $200, I can't see that first-cross ewe lambs, or even 1.5-year-olds, will make the highs they have seen in the past few years," Mr Redpath said.
"Prices will come back in accordance to this.
"Alternatively, some producers have held-off purchasing young ewes while prices were so high, so if they decide to buy, demand, and subsequently prices, may rise."
Meat and Livestock's mid-year lamb and sheep projections, released last week, predicted that additional lambs and softer export conditions would contribute to a price fall.
But MLA chief economist Tim McRae said despite the lamb price drop, overall returns for slaughter lamb producers in the next 12 months would continue to be favourable, underpinned by reasonable prices and higher turn-off rates.
Landmark Murray Bridge agent Kevin Keller said the Murray Bridge prime lamb market on Monday was a good sale, with prices at an estimated $4.50-$4.60/kg carcaseweight.
"Skin prices are certainly back a bit but we have better quality lambs than we did last year," he said.
Landmark Mount Pleasant Anderson and Fawcett partner and livestock manager Colin Fawcett said "a hatful" of sucker lambs were sold at the sale centre in July. More were sold yesterday.
The mediumweight to tradeweight lambs sold to $97 in July.
"Dubbo, New South Wales, had 30,000-odd lambs this week, and numbers like that in the eastern states will affect the job here," he said.
"The majority of sucker lambs in the market are making about that $90 to $125."
Combined Independent Agents Association chairperson Garry Willson, Garry Willson Livestock, Kadina, said a lot of sucker lambs would be sold as lightweight lambs.
"If there is no decent rain out at Eudunda or on the West Coast in the next six weeks things could get really tough," he said.
Mr Willson said of the 12,000 lambs sold at Dublin on Tuesday, a third were sucker lambs.
"Store sucker lambs were making $70 to $75, which I would estimate to be equivalent to $2.20-$2.30/kg liveweight while good lambs, about 50kg, at $90-$110 are not making $2/kg lw," he said.
"At those prices, and with dear grain prices and ordinary forward contracts, why would you want to keep feeding on?"
Mr Willson said mutton prices were $30 to $40 cheaper than last year, so he expected young ewe prices to also drop but this would depend on the season.
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