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Farmer's pain is shopper's gain: Aussie meat 'cheaper than chicken'

Thanks to lamb, the meat component of the next inflation measure is going to be a bit lower.

Legs of lamb for sale in Woolworths.
Lamb can now be bought for as little as $9/kg. (Source: Jason Murphy)

Finally, some good news from the supermarket aisles - although, bad news for farmers. Lamb is suddenly extremely cheap.

I wandered into my local Woolies the other day and there was a big pile of ‘small lamb legs’ ready for roasting. They had been priced at $10/kg and then marked down even further. I would have bought them but I already have a lamb leg in the fridge and one in the freezer.

Also by Jason Murphy:

At $10/kg, lamb is cheaper than even the pale, plain variety of thin sausages and almost as cheap as tofu ($7/kg). Lamb is as cheap as chicken, and that’s saying something. Efficient farming has made chicken extremely inexpensive these days. It is one of very few meats that has barely risen in price for decades, as the next chart shows (nb, it doesn’t reflect the most recent price falls in lamb).

Chart showing informatyion about lamb.
(Source: supplied)

But right now, a leg of lamb costs the same or even less than a kilo of chicken thighs ($9 to $20 - depending on whether the thighs are fancy or not).

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If anything is going to save us from inflation, it’s lamb. The meat component of the next inflation measure is going to be a bit lower, and that will help make overall inflation lower than it would otherwise be. We eat 9kg of lamb per person per year, so lamb inflation matters!

Don’t get me wrong. You can still pay $50/kg for nice lamb cutlets. But entry-level lamb is cheaper than ever. As long as you have an oven or a slow cooker, you’re in position to enjoy a delicious meal.

Stephanie Alexander recommends shoving bits of anchovy and garlic into the lamb before you roast it and I can attest that recipe is the business. I usually turn on the oven then wander up the street with a surreptitious pair of scissors to pinch some rosemary from my neighbour’s front garden. But if it's raining, you don’t even need to do that. Just a drizzle of oil, a shake of salt and a splash of white wine in the dish is enough.

Aussie lamb market saturated

Our gain is the farmers’ loss of course. Lamb prices have been tumbling all year. As the next chart shows, prices are down almost 50 per cent on this time last year.

Chart showing informatyion about lamb.
(Source: supplied)

Stories abound of sheep trading for as little as a dollar each.

With the Australian market saturated, no wonder we’re exporting as many as we can. Lamb exports have never been higher, as the next chart shows. China is desperate for our exports, apparently, but that is still not enough to prop up local prices.

Chart showing informatyion about lamb.
(Source: supplied)

This is a classic story of supply and demand. A wet period made for strong pasture growth and big sheep flocks. Lambs – defined as a sheep under the age of 12 months whose teeth haven’t come through yet – are now abundant. And with a hot, dry summer coming, it makes sense to turn them into meat now rather than worry about feeding them when the paddocks turn to dust.

The lamb supply glut is coming from NSW and Victoria. WA is worried about the future of its sheep industry because of the pending ban on live exports, but that’s not in place just yet. NSW and Victoria killed 4.5 million lambs in the most recent three-month period, roughly 50,000 a day.

Chart showing informatyion about lamb.
(Source: supplied)

Farmers are also processing adult sheep to make mutton. That sells overseas mainly. It’s almost impossible to get mutton here locally. The domestic market seems to have no appetite for the strong-flavoured meat. Mutton production is up even more than lamb as farmers realise they don’t need breeding stock.

Once upon a time, Barnaby Joyce warned us about $100 lamb roasts. The opposite has happened. For now, the best way to support a sheep farmer is to help yourself to a roast lamb for less than the price of a Big Mac meal at McDonalds.

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