BUCKLE DOWN FOR A BUMPY RIDE
2022 and beyond will go down as being among the most challenging periods for Scotland’s red meat sector since the industry faced the foot-and-mouth outbreaks of 2001 and 2007 and the emergence of BSE in the 1980s.
“Rising costs, continuing labour shortages and the challenge to hit net zero targets, head a hit list of pressures for farmers, processors and retailers to address over the coming months,” said Ian Bentley, newly elected president of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW).
“As we approach the return of the Royal Highland Show next week there is also much to celebrate, of course, not least the quality and provenance of Scotland’s iconic red meat. I am really looking forward to seeing the agri/food industry once again putting its excellence on display, which is a welcome return to normal. However, we cannot ignore the spiralling operational costs, energy hikes, and supplies crisis facing all parts of the industry at present.
“SAMW member companies have been battling to maintain staffing levels for at least the past 18 months, if not longer, with no sign of an easing in pressures in this area. This has inevitably raised labour costs, leading to depressed processing margins which has been exacerbated by the energy cost surge of recent months. I know many others are in the same place, including farmers, but that doesn’t change our sector’s bottom-line returns.
“If ever we needed to work together as a whole-industry supply chain, then this is it. By that, I mean farmers, processors, retailers and government talking to each other and properly understanding each other. We have a great product in Scotland and good lines of communication between the representative bodies that seek to drive the industry forward. While each sector will obviously seek to look after its own in the face of such a challenging period, there will be no prizes for allowing any one part of the supply chain to benefit at the expense of another.
“As processors, we desperately need strong livestock supplies at one end and a rewarding retail chain at the other. We appreciate that farmers need the same to apply to their businesses. We both need as much support and helpful pragmatic governance as possible. As tackling the climate change challenge takes centre stage, the pivotal role that livestock farming and processing plays in safeguarding our rural communities is in danger of being overlooked. Sometimes, we feel it is an uphill battle to secure support and understanding so we can collectively work together to maximise our sector’s potential to the benefit of producers, workers and consumers.
“Attention also needs to be given to the big rises being applied to inspection costs and the potential risks attached to the UK’s light touch approach to import checks. While our members face highly complicated and costly export checks, meat imported into the UK enjoys unrestricted access to our market. This provides our competitors with a commercial advantage and leaves our livestock prey to major disease risks which could easily be avoided.
“Hopefully, the return of the Royal Highland Show will enable us to ‘kick start’ a new round of meaningful discussions, geared to addressing the enormous challenges that lie ahead. Despite these challenges, however, we believe firmly in the future of Scottish red meat and desperately want to maximise the industry’s potential.”