Lamb off the menu for many

The price of lamb has soared but Byron Bay butcher Graeme Mead says it hasn’t put his customers off.
The price of lamb has soared but Byron Bay butcher Graeme Mead says it hasn’t put his customers off.

A LAMB roast is becoming an unaffordable luxury for many North Coast families as the price of lamb soars to record levels.

A supply shortage has seen a $20 leg of lamb jump to about $27 in the past few months, with increases expected to continue. Some reports have forecast prices of up to $60 a leg.

The acting manager of Ballina’s Cherry Street Butchery, Peter Walsh, said wholesale prices had increased dramatically in recent months.

“We usually see price rises of about five cents a kilo, but now we’re getting jumps of 50 cents at a time,” he said.

Butchers were paying about $2.50 more per kilo for lamb than they were three months ago, he said.

The sales manager of Casino meat wholesaler McCaughey Meats, Jeff Harding, said it came down to basic supply and demand.

Nationally, flock numbers had dropped in recent decades due to factors such as the weather and an exodus of farmers from the land.

More recently, the drought in Western Australia has contributed to a decrease in flock numbers, while farmers in other states who recently went through the drought are trying to rebuild their flocks and hanging on to their lambs for breeding stock.

At the same time, demand – especially export demand – remains strong.

According to the Meat and Livestock Authority, exports are set to rise by 7% in 2011, with the Middle East expected to become Australia’s largest export destination. South-East Asia and the greater China regions are also expected to be strong growth areas.

Mr Harding, who has worked in the industry for 20 years, said yard prices for lamb had surged compared with beef and pork and butchers had done extremely well to keep prices down.

“Most have cut their margins to keep lamb in some sort of price range that’s affordable,” he said.

Butcher Graeme Mead, of Trevor Mead Quality Meats at Byron Bay, agreed price rises were absorbed to some degree but eventually they had to be passed on to the customer.

Price rises had not deterred his customers, however.

“People love their lamb,” he said.

However, there is some good news for lamb lovers as prices are expected to ease late in the year.

“The Australian flock is expected to grow by 2% as the favourable seasonal conditions in the eastern states produce exceptional lambing rates,” the Meat and Livestock Authority’s Sylvia Athas said.

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