DENVER – During the general session of the US Meat Export Federation’s Strategic Planning Conference held Nov. 4, US lamb exports took center stage as Gary Pfeiffer, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Davis, Calif.-based Superior Farms, provided attendees with a US lamb industry update.

Although the US sheep flock is small, lamb exports are a bright spot for the industry and are helping provide healthy returns to producers, Pfeiffer noted. Through August of this year, US lamb exports have climbed 72 percent ahead of last year’s pace in terms of volume (28.4 million lbs.) and 42 percent higher in value ($21.2 million). With four months of results still to come, exports are on pace to easily break the annual export volume record of 30.7 million lbs. and the export value record of $27.8 million, which were both established in 2006.

“The annual harvest is only 2.5 million head, which is an incredible growth in the value of lamb” he said. “It’s averaging about $300 per head. For a 75 lb. lamb, that works out to about $4 per lb. in hanging weight so that’s a good return to the producer.

“What we’re seeing worldwide is that market being very strong in the future as the demand for lamb and all protein continues to be very strong,” he added. “We’re certainly hoping these record returns are leading to flock rebuilding because we can use every lamb that’s produced.”

Even though lamb supplies are small, the export markets represent a very critical opportunity, Pfeiffer said.

“In the US, 50 percent of the lamb consumed is imported from Australia and New Zealand,” he added. “So, if we are only half of the US supply and don’t have enough meat to supply our own needs, why export? Certainly, there are some great reasons why we want to export.

“We see an opportunity to maximize the returns on our premium products... rack of lamb should be on the top menus anywhere in the world,” he continued. “We can capture greater returns on legs and shoulders in markets previously exclusive in using Australian and New Zealand product and certainly improve returns on variety meats. Americans don’t eat very many lamb kidneys or offals, but around the world they’re a bright item.

“A lot of our heads and offals go to Mexico plus shoulders, when the price is right. The Caribbean is a great market for us. Canada is a market that has been dominated by the New Zealand market for years and they have taken it for granted. So I’m pleased to say we at Superior Farms have been able to capture some significant retail market share there this year. Central and South American and then China/Hong Kong represents a small export business today but certainly are incredible opportunities going forward,” he concluded.