[3 December/Radio NZ]

Opportunities to grow returns from lamb exports are in danger if the trend of steadily declining ewe numbers is not turned around. New Zealand sheep numbers peaked in 1982, with a total of 70.3 million sheep, but the national flock has been declining since then and latest estimates indicate the national flock is now 27.3 million animals. A Beef + Lamb New Zealand report shows farmers are doing well productivity-wise, with more ewes having twins and triplets, lifting lambing percentages to 129 percent this year, however record lambing percentages have not been enough to offset the rate of decline in the national flock.  AgriHQ Senior Analyst, Mel Croad, noted that breeding ewe numbers are down by over 2 percent this year, which has resulted in a lower lamb crop. B+L NZ have estimated the 2018 lamb crop to be down just under 1 percent this spring to total 23.5 million lambs which Ms Croad suggested could result in the current season having the lowest export slaughter tally since the 2011-12 season. She added that the sheep industry in Australia is working to increase ewe numbers to take advantage of expectations that global sheep meat consumption will continue to grow.