Scottish suckler herd under threat, say industry leaders

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

With cattle numbers falling over the last decade, NFU Scotland, the Scottish Beef Association (SBA) and the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) met in Stirling 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 a longer term trend. The major factor in this reduction has been the challenge of the ongoing 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 the fact 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.

‘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.

‘With limited market returns, it is vital any future support for the sector is developed in a way which enhances production levels of Scotch beef.’

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 and equipment. 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.’

SAMW president Frank Clark said: ‘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. Otherwise, we will not be able to capitalise as an industry on future sales opportunities.’