Behold the Hungarian Lamb

Easter is here and the annual peak export period of Hungarian lamb is ending. An overview of the state of the sector in the midst of the pandemic.

Sheep grazing in a field
There were structural changes in the international demand for lamb and mutton due to the crisis.

The annual season of the lamb and mutton export started in March. In Hungary, the domestic sheep breeder sector sells around 250 thousand animals internationally before and during the Easter period. This trade is worth HUF 3.5-4 billion (€10-11 million).

This year, the export of ca. 150 thousand animals was uncertain. However, international trade has not collapsed. The meat sector got though the first shocks and most of the Easter lamb meat will make it to family dining tables this year too.

The most important foreign market for Hungarian lamb is Italy, and last month there were serious concerns about access to this market as well as about transport delays and border closures. Fortunately, the selling of the domestic product concluded for the most part without major disruptions.

Still, the pandemic crisis made a dent in the lamb meat trade. According to Head of Breeding Dr. László Sáfár of the Hungarian Sheep and Goat Breeders' Association (MJKSz), the demand changed due to the crisis. Normally, small slaughterhouses purchase the lamb export, and they routinely buy young lamb under 20 kg weight.

However, because of the pandemic, many of these small enterprises are out of business and the primary buyers this year were large slaughterhouses, which prefer buying lambs over 20 kg weight. The January-February breed of lambs could not entirely satisfy this changed demand. Moreover, there was a larger demand for young rams than ewe lambs, which means that many of the leftover ewes will now be kept for breeding.

Although the peak period has now concluded, the Easter export season will not be over after Western (Gregorian) Easter. Minister of Agriculture István Nagy stated that lamb export to Libya, Saudi Arabia and Israel has also started and throughout most of April, there will still be international demand for Hungarian lamb and mutton as Orthodox Easter approaches, which will be celebrated on April 19 in 2020.

According to MJKSz, the remainder of the unsold Easter lambs will now be raised further and will be sold to Austria and Germany in May, when the Muslim Eid-al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan will bring about another surge in the international lamb and mutton trade.

MJKSz stresses that due to the financial needs of keeping and raising the Easter lambs until the next trade period in May and also, raising the ewe lambs intended for slaughter as breeding ewes, this sector will be in need of governmental support.

Sources: Hungarian Sheep and Goat Breeders’ Association, Magyar Mezőgazdaság Online