JUST a month away from autumn, where does the lamb market sit in relation to slaughter figures and price data recorded in recent years?
The Weekly Times has crunched some figures last week's column, which featured the predictions on lamb supply forecast by Meat and Livestock Australia for this year.
MLA suggests the quarterly lamb kill throughout this year will exceed the numbers recorded in the past 12 months.
It's a prediction that, not surprisingly, has re-ignited the argument about lamb supply and what is still in paddocks to be sold this autumn and winter before the new season suckers hit.
"There is no way we have the same number of old lambs to sell this winter," was the feedback from a South Australian-based agent.
"The number of store lambs we've bought is well down on other years, and we are not the only area like it - look at the figures."
How you interpret the figures, and how much faith you put in flock numbers and the increase in ewe joining since the drought ended, is a key factor in determining how you interpret the current situation and likely lamb supply going into the autumn and winter.
So rather than put someone else's take on the figures, here is the raw data for producers to draw their own conclusions about how the lamb market is situated just four weeks out from the official start of autumn.
The lamb kill from August (considered by many to be the start of the lamb season as it is when suckers traditionally start to hit the market) to end of January totalled 8,355,733, according to figures from the National Livestock Reporting Service.
This is an increase of more than 1.1 million lambs on the same August to January period in 2011-12 when the lamb kill totalled 7,228,730.
As a comparison, in 2010 the lamb kill for the same six-months was 7,499,626 - slightly more than in 2011-12 but still about 850,000 lambs shy of the slaughter recorded this past August to January period.
Figures support the view that more lightweight lambs have been slaughtered this year rather than sold back to paddocks.
Based on NLRS data - collected from all the major weekly prime markets including Bendigo, Ballarat, Horsham, Hamilton, Wagga Wagga, Dubbo and Naracoorte, there has been a 44 per cent increase in the number of lighter lambs sold for slaughter this past season.
In raw figures the NLRS recorded 203,538 lambs that weighed 12-16kg carcass weight sold to meat buyers from August to December, compared to 141,272 in the same time-frame the previous year.
Reflecting the bigger buy-up of lighter weight lambs by processors is the data for restocking lambs, which has fallen. The NLRS said it recorded 310,164 lambs sold to restockers at prime markets from August to December, compared to a much greater number of 454,204 lambs sold to restockers during the same period the previous year.
The raw figures paint a picture of more lambs being slaughtered, including lighter weight lambs, and less being sold to restockers.
During the past 15 years the average price of a trade lamb has been higher at the start of April compared to early January on nine occasions, while the other six years the price declined.
The average price increase was 25c/kg, while the biggest improvement in a single year was 77c/kg. Conversely, in the six years the price fell from January to April the average correction was 26c/kg, with the worst fall recorded in a season being 36c/kg.
To play devil's advocate, the average trade lamb price was at 327c/kg in early January.
So to go above 400c/kg by early April the market would have to record one of its best ever price rises for that period.
The odds of the lamb market being dearer in early June, compared to January are better, with the market lifting 11 times out of the past 15 years over this time period.
The average price increase over these 11 years was 63c/kg, with the biggest gain in a single year from January to June being 112c/kg.
So again, to play devil's advocate, if the market matches the historical average and improves by 63c/kg on January levels it would have the trade lamb indicator at 390c/kg in early June. And if it improved by the highest gain recorded of 112c it would boost it to 440c/kg.
Figures for thought.