Lamb exports for 2023 so far could outperform record-breaking 2022 volumes, if things continue along their current trajectory.
The 284, 257 tonnes of lamb exported last year and the associated $3.4 billion in revenue mark the best year on record for Australian lamb exports, but the first three months of 2023 are already running ahead of those volumes.
Lamb exports for quarter 1 2023 are six per cent higher than the same period in 2022.
China, South Korea and the Middle East North Africa region have all recorded significant growth.
According to MLA business analyst Tim Jackson, exports to China are up 29 per cent from last year, to 14,612 tonnes so far.
"Slightly lower forecasts for exports of New Zealand lamb (the largest exporter to China) alongside still-rapidly growing protein demand are fueling strong export growth," he said.
"This is likely to continue over the coming months as the Chinese economy emerges from lockdown-related dips in consumer spending."
Lamb exports are also booming in South Korea, growing by 60pc to 22,901 tonnes during 2022, the largest year on record.
Mr Jackson said 2023 will see that grow even further, with the 47pc rise during the first three months to just under 6000 tonnes making South Korea the third biggest lamb export destination.
"Strong growth in markets like South Korea increase the resilience of Australian lamb and make it less likely that local disruptions will affect exports," he said.
"Already a strong market for Australian beef, South Korea is becoming increasingly important for Australian lamb."
In the MENA regions exports were subdued in 2022, due to travel being curbed by COVID but that's shifting this year.
The United Arab Emirates is taking the top position for exports in the region, taking almost half of total exports and growing by 32pc.
"The UAE was always an important market, but this recent increase means that the UAE is now the clear leader for lamb exports in the region, and exports are close to what we saw in 2019, when prices were much lower," Mr Jackson said.
But despite the overall increase in exports, the growth has been balanced out by declines in South East Asia, the US and the UK and European Union.
Lamb exports to the US have softened by 16 per cent this year, a move that is believed to be at least partially driven by customers picking cheaper proteins.
Notably frozen lamb exports fell by 22 per cent but mutton exports picked up 41 per cent, while chilled exports are still well above historic averages.
It comes after processor prices for lamb softened during the shortened business week due to Anzac Day, though mutton prices remained stable.
Last week 108,000 head were offered for sale, down from 201,000 head the week prior while mutton pulled back by 33,000 head to 68,168 head.
Meat & Livestock Australia is forecasting supply of sheep and lambs will remain strong well into winter due to the growing flock and improved flexibility of producers to turn-off older, non-performing ewes.
In Western Australia a backlog of sheep has built up as processors struggle to meet demand due to capacity and staffing issues.
With the government's planned phase out of live sheep exports by sea looming, the processing glut could be set to worsen unless meatworks expand significantly.