Low wool exports rescued by sheep-meat production

New Zealand wool prices reached a 21-year high last year alongside a heavy decrease in the number of sheep in the country; with sheep-meat export prices also reaching an all time high.

New Zealand wool prices reached a 21-year high last year alongside a heavy decrease in the number of sheep in the country; with sheep-meat export prices also reaching an all time high.

Despite wool exports dropping from once being a quarter of the country’s total export earnings to now accounting for just under 2%, sheep-meat exports are earning nearly $3 billion a year for the country according to the latest price index report from Statistics New Zealand.

In 1982 the number of sheep in the country peaked at 70 million, but an end to government subsidies in 1984 and the rise of synthetic fibres hastened a decline in the importance of wool, bringing wool’s contribution to the value of exports to a mere 1.6%.

When wool prices peaked in 1989, the total export value of New Zealand’s wool was $1.8 billion, compared to 2011 where this total had dropped by 60% to $720 million.

In contrast, lamb, hogget and mutton exports have risen 189% over the same time period, up from $1 billion in 1989 to $2.9 billion in 2011.

Advances in how farms are run and operated today make up for the loss in the country’s sheep numbers, with fewer ewes now needed to produce the same amount of meat in a year.

Additionally lambs have also become heavier, with the average export lamb slaughter weight at 12.7 kg in the year to September 1989 compared with the increased average weight of 18.4 kg in 2011, an increase of 44%.

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