Iconic Scotch Beef Supplies Under Threat

by Admin on July 26, 2018

Beef farming sector writes to Cabinet Secretary

Scottish beef industry representatives have written jointly to Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy Fergus Ewing raising their concerns about the prospects for the Scottish suckler beef herd.

Considering the reduction in cattle numbers over the last decade and more, NFU Scotland, the Scottish Beef Association (SBA) and the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) met in Stirling last week to discuss the issue.

The number of finished cattle passing through Scottish abattoirs has declined from more than 520,000 cattle in 2005 to under 400,000 in 2017, as part of what has been a long-term trend. The major factor in this reduction has been the challenge of profitability impacting the on-going viability of beef production.

Speaking after the meeting, NFU Scotland Livestock Committee chairman Charlie Adam, a beef producer from Aberdeenshire, said: “All three organisations welcome that the Scottish Government has now produced its post-Brexit proposals in the form of the ‘Stability and Simplicity’ consultation. Importantly, that allows for a rural funding transition period and we will submit our full responses in due course.

“However, greater returns from the marketplace for beef in the future will be limited due to the fierce competitiveness of the food retail market. Our reputation for quality and our PGI status will play a vital role in leveraging the necessary premium for Scotch Beef over our competitors, but despite that premium being in place for many years, the beef sector has still seen a substantial decline in numbers.

“Therefore, with limited market returns, it is vital that any future support for the sector is developed in a way which enhances production levels of iconic Scotch beef.

“The existing Scottish Suckler Beef Support Scheme (SSBSS) has been a positive driver of on-farm productivity, encouraging some farmers to invest in the production of profitable stock. However, it has at best only slowed down the decline in stock numbers rather than achieve its policy aims to stabilise beef cow numbers and then return the size of the national herd back to historical levels.

SBA President, Neil McCorkindale added: “Many livestock farmers and crofters are managing to maintain stock numbers only by squeezing the life out of existing assets, leaving them unable to make much needed investment in new machinery, equipment and facilities. This situation has led to levels of inertia in the sector that discourage young people, and which stands in the way of production and progress.

“While the Beef Efficiency Scheme has been another avenue to deliver support to the sector, in its current form this scheme has been perceived by many producers as impractical and overly-burdensome which has restricted its potential to initiate meaningful and lasting changes on-farm. We therefore hope that the Scottish Government can commit to simplicity when developing similar future support mechanisms to make them more user friendly, attractive and, most importantly, enabling all livestock farmers to achieve productivity benefits.

SAMW President Frank Clark said: “It is obvious from discussion with farming bodies that production-driven support is needed in the immediate future to arrest the decline in cattle numbers, hopefully reversing the present downward trend into growth.

“While our members are currently investing in their plants and have additional future investments in mind to ensure processing facilities in Scotland remain of the highest standard, we need an increase in raw material supplies going forward. Otherwise, we will not be able to capitalise as an industry on future sales opportunities.”

Tackling the stagnation of Scottish farm productivity needs prompt action, not more words or further industry analysis, says the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW).

“The Royal Highland Show has often been the launch-pad for new farming initiatives but this week’s event needs instead to be a dynamic launch-pad for decisive and positive action,” said SAMW President, Frank Clark.

“The recently published agricultural champions report, commissioned by the Scottish Government, said it all in terms of where we currently are as an industry and where we need to get to over the next five to 10 years to secure a sustainable and profitable future for all parts of the supply chain. It also acknowledged that we’ve had too many reports in the past which have contained excellent recommendations but which haven’t always been actioned. As we hurtle towards an uncertain post-Brexit world we simply can’t afford to make the same mistakes again.”

SAMW has been calling for government action to arrest the decline in livestock numbers for a number of years but still with no sign of any sustained improvement in output.

“Thankfully, the ag-champs report hit this issue head-on, using the word ‘stagnation’ to describe the current state of Scottish farm productivity,” said Mr Clark. “It also called for a mind-set change across Scottish agriculture with future funding being targeted to produce results in a progressive, entrepreneurial and resilient manner.

“In addition, dealing specifically with farm output stagnation, the ag-champs said that future income support measures should include headage payments, where appropriate, alongside a major new focus on policies and schemes to support production efficiency. Cutting current levels of wastage due to avoidable animal diseases and production inefficiency was also rightly highlighted as areas which can and should improve.

“Another quote from the report, stated that ‘this time the Scottish Government, with potentially fewer restrictions on its actions in future, has the opportunity to take forward our recommendations and, working with the industry, make a real difference’.

“We could spend a lot more time discussing the details of all this, of course, including who might win and who might lose as a result. For once, however, let’s just get on with it.

“SAMW certainly agrees with that sentiment. We are at pivotal stage for our industry and Ministers and policy makers must grasp the nettle with both hands. As a result, the 2018 Royal Highland Show will hopefully go down in history as the turning point when Scottish livestock production started to grow again. However, if that doesn’t happen, and the stagnation of our flagship livestock sector is allowed go unchecked, we could be looking at the Ingliston showground hosting a much smaller gathering in future years.”

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