Coronavirus has checked the rampant prime lamb market with prices at major eastern states saleyards early this week showing a softening trend from recent record levels.
The Eastern States Trade Lamb Indicator has shed 19 cents a kilogram dressed in the past week to sit on 947c on Tuesday which is still a whopping 302c above year-ago levels.
The heavy lamb indicator has lost 10c for the week to land on 928c but that's still almost 300c above rates this time last year.
Sheep prices have been less affected with the Eastern States Mutton Indicator lifting 10c in the past week to 729c.
At this stage coronavirus poses no threat to livestock sales although leading livestock agencies and saleyard operators are urging non-essential people to stay away.
Nutrien Ag Solutions (the parent company of the recently merged Landmark and Ruralco) said livestock sales were a critical part of Australia's food supply.
But the company said only essential staff and registered buyers should attend sales until the virus emergency was over.
Matt Dalgleish, a market analyst with farm commodity price forecaster, Mecardo, said ongoing global concerns about the economic impact of coronavirus was likely to continue to put downward pressure on lamb and sheep prices.
Even Ballarat, which has been the hottest lamb and sheep selling centre in Australia in recent weeks, saw a dip in prices this week.
Lamb numbers jumped by almost 2000 head on Tuesday to 33,065 with heavy lambs cheaper by 40c a kg dressed in places.
Feeders and restockers weren't as active, paying from $120 to $220 a head. Trade lambs, 18 to 22kg, fetched from $187 to $220 to average around 970c.
Heavy lambs, 26 to 30kg, sold from $250 to $279 to average from 925c while over 30kg lambs sold from $270 to $336 to average around 860c.
Mutton prices were firm despite the sheep yarding increasing by 4261 to 14,010.
Prices were easier at Forbes, Dubbo, Bendigo and the South Australian Livestock Exchange at Dublin.
Trade weight lambs were back $8 to $13 at Forbes on Tuesday, making from $170 to $221.
Plenty of grain-fed lambs were among the yarding of 16,050.
Heavy and extra heavy weight lambs were $20 cheaper with lambs up to 26kg selling from $195 to $246. Extra heavyweights topped at $283.
Lamb numbers dived by 6370 to 27,000 at Monday's Bendigo sales but that didn't stop prices for heavy exports lambs, particularly those over 30kg dressed, sliding $20 a head.
However competition for good domestic lambs was firm to dearer amid reports consumers had started to stockpile meat in response to the coronavirus panic.
Extra heavy shorn lambs topped at $330 but most export processors were reluctant to push above $290 a head.
Any reasonable slaughter lamb above 22kg still made over $200.
A cheaper trend was evident at Dubbo's Monday sale with a yarding of 12,540 head including 8240 lambs.
Trade lambs were $6 to $10 cheaper, selling from $176 to $227.
Heavy lambs were $17 to $22 cheaper with the 24kg to 30kg pens selling from $215 to $294 while lambs over 30kg topped at $320.
More grain-assisted crossbred and Merino lambs were a feature of the yarding of 9000 lambs and 5000 sheep at SA's Dublin sale.
Processor competition on the heavy and extreme heavyweight lambs waned with prices easing from $20 to $25 and more in places.
Restocker and trade competition on the lighter end of the market returned a mostly firm to marginally dearer trend.
Meanwhile,the lamb slaughter went into reverse last week in Victoria (down 17pc to 149,614) and South Australia (down 10pc to 41,088) but rose 7pc in NSW to 91,040.
The eastern states mutton slaughter plummeted by 21pc to 78,286 with a 26pc drop in Victoria to 34,102 and a 22pc slide in NSW to 30,810.
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