Sheep Numbers in Australia on the Rise as Producers Restock and Eye New Markets in European Union

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Australian sheep numbers will hit 78.75 million this year, the highest they have been since 2007, thanks to sustained rebuilding as much of the country emerges from drought. 

Key points:

  • Australia’s sheep flock will reach its highest level since 2007 this year
  • 48 per cent of the world’s sheepmeat comes from Australia, making it the world’s biggest exporter
  • Trade talks between Australia and the EU have stalled due to Australia asking for better access to European markets for agricultural products like lamb and beef

As sheep numbers rise, so too will slaughter rates, which will cement Australia as the world’s largest exporter of sheepmeat, according to projections from Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA).

It also means consumers could see cheaper meat on supermarket shelves as supply grows and producers look for markets for their products.

With more sheep than people, the industry relies heavily on the export market to deliver quality meat product to international consumers.

The US and China are the biggest markets for Australian sheepmeat, but trade talks with the EU could see a shift in where the country’s sheep meat is sent.

Major flock rebuild following drought

As large parts of the country emerge from drought, the nation’s flock continues to rebuild.

Sheep producer Frank Deshon runs almost 10,000 ewes on his Dirranbandi property in south-west Queensland.

He said he had been slowly rebuilding his flock after two good seasons.

A man walking between pens of sheep in sheep yards
Mr Deshon has rebuilt his flock to almost 10,000 ewes after two good seasons allowed him to bring more sheep back onto his property.(Supplied: Frank Deshon)

“Our flock is replenished up to where we need it,” Mr Deshon said.

“The last two and a half years have been well above average and compensated for that nasty drought that kept going on forever.”

As good seasons brought more confidence, more producers started rebuilding their flocks, leading to more sheep and lamb hitting the market.

As a result, the industry has seen increases in sheep and lamb production.

MLA projections show lamb production is expected to reach a record level of 540,000 tonnes, beating the 2022 record of 534,500 tonnes.

The projections show production will continue to increase into 2024 before easing in 2025, after years of production result in a reduction of supply.

MLA senior market analyst Ripley Atkinson said he remained confident the supply of lambs would continue because more lambs from this season were yet to hit the market.

Sheep walking through dusty sheep yards with a dust cloud behind the mob
Australia’s sheep flock will reach its highest level since 2007 this year after an intense rebuilding period.(ABC Rural: Maddelin McCosker)

“This will allow for continued high slaughter numbers, flowing through to increased production in 2023 and 2024,” Mr Atkinson said.

“This will ensure that Australia can continue to meet its domestic and ever-increasing global demand for high quality sheepmeat.”

Stalled trade talks over ag access

While the US and China are typically Australia’s biggest markets for sheepmeat, trade talks between Australia and the European Union could see more markets opened to Australian producers.

This week Australia’s Trade Minister Don Farrell travelled to Brussels to break a deadlock between Australia and the EU, but failed to reach a compromise after two days.

Australian Prime Minster Anthony Albanese said Australia wanted greater trade access for sheep meat, beef, sugar, cheese and rice exports into the European Union than what was currently on the table.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese speaks prior to a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Mr Albanese says he wants a better deal for Australia after trade talks with the European Union stalled this week. (AP: Mindaugas Kulbis)

“We want a better deal than what’s currently offered on beef and sheep meat,” he said at the NATO Summit in Lithuania this week.

“[We] will continue to argue the case for a free trade agreement in the interests of both Australia and Europe.

“But we won’t just sign up to a deal for the sake of it. What we want is a good deal for Australia.”

Both sides are set to meet again in August to continue negotiations.

So, while producers may have to wait a little longer to get access into new international markets, the increase in domestic supply of sheepmeat could benefit Australian families at the check-out.

Source: ABC News