NFU Scotland, the Scottish Beef Association (SBA) and the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) met in Stirling recently to discuss the growing issue, and have written to the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy Fergus Ewing.
NFU Scotland has reported that the number of finished cattle passing through Scottish abattoirs has declined from more than 520,000 head in 2005 to under 400,000 in 2017, as part of what has been a long-term trend.
NFU Scotland livestock committee chairman Charlie Adam, a beef producer from Aberdeenshire, said: “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.”
SBA president Neil McCorkindale also warned that farmers were at a tipping point. “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 stand 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 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 added: “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.”