Sector trends

Agriculture news: a 2022 outlook for beef and lamb

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) looks at the trends affecting key livestock prices into 2022.

Jitters aside, cattle prices rebounded in the summer of 2020, and have remained elevated. Further lockdowns, social distancing measures and furloughing of hospitality staff limited offerings from restaurants and pubs, meaning that more consumers were buying beef from stores than before the pandemic. This trend is now easing, with demand moving back to out-of-home dining. Lamb demand has also remained relatively robust throughout 2021, with more lamb kebabs filling the space left by dine-in and on-the-go occasions.

Butchers in particular saw strong sales growth during lockdowns, as consumers chose to shop more locally. British beef tends to sell well among retailers, fortified by pledges from several major brands to back 100% British beef. This switch in shopping and consumption behaviour has been one factor behind higher domestic cattle prices over the past year.

The outlook for UK beef and lamb production

In spite of the demand, 2021 has been a year of lower production for beef. Tighter cattle supplies are expected to continue, limiting slaughter and production during December 2021 and into the first quarter of 2022. However, higher numbers of youngstock could contribute to slightly higher production in 2022 overall. Ongoing contraction in dairy and suckler cow numbers is expected to continue in 2022, which could limit the future growth in beef production.

Lamb production was also lower in 2021 but is expected to show some recovery in 2022. A greater share from the 2020 crop was killed as new season lambs that year, and it appears a relatively high proportion of the 2021 crop is being held over for slaughter in 2022. This is partly a legacy of the industry positioning itself before Brexit. The lamb crop in 2021 is thought to be somewhat smaller than that of 2020, and the numbers currently observed are even lower than forecast.

Analysis of demand

Figures suggest less beef and lamb is being sold in shops than in 2020, as more people are able to dine out. Despite this, the amount of beef and lamb eaten in restaurants and pubs is still expected to track below pre-lockdown levels for some time, even while overall consumption in 2021 looks set to be higher than before the pandemic began. Into 2022, expect demand to move further away from retail and back towards eating out.

Prospects for trade

International trade of both beef and lamb was subdued in 2021. This was due to pandemic-induced disruption to demand domestically and in the EU, as well as logistical and administrative challenges following Brexit. Lower production in the UK and Ireland also contributed to lower trade volumes, so UK exports of beef and lamb currently remain below 2020 levels, although beef imports are more likely to recover by the end of the year.

The UK is less self-sufficient in beef than it is in lamb, and so imports will recover as restaurant trade picks up. There is far less scope for lamb imports from New Zealand to recover by the year end.

Further pandemic-related lockdowns remain an open question, which means there could be more uncertain times ahead. Potential issues include:

  • the effect of any new international trade deals

  • the phasing out of the EU’s agriculture subsidies

  • the take-up of the government’s new environmental land management schemes, including the sustainable farming incentive, and local nature and landscape recovery subsidies

This article was originally published by our partner specialists at the AHDB. For more insights, visit their website.

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of NatWest Group, as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Copyright © NatWest Group. All rights reserved.

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