Scottish livestock numbers still a concern

The Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) has expressed concern over the future level of Scottish livestock, despite a report published this week showing that the decline in beef numbers seems to be showing some localised stabilisation. 

The ‘Response from the Hills’ report published by the Scottish Agriculture College has indicated that improved financial returns for beef and sheep have increased confidence for upland producers with the industry “turning a corner” at national and regional level.

However SAMW president Alan Craig said that the high cow cull disposals in recent months continued to raise serious questions for the sector, with the impact on future calf numbers continuing to be felt throughout 2012.

He said: “Supplies are already extremely tight so, even if the most optimistic interpretation of current livestock figures plays out in reality, we’re still looking at another year of limited raw materials and a processing sector throughput which is well short of ideal.”

“The one firm statistic we have is that the pool of breeding cattle is currently 100,000 head smaller, in GB terms, than at this time in 2010. However you view the other figures which are out there, this remains worrying and is clearly an issue which the CAP reform process must address.”

Craig said that in order to preserve current numbers, funds needed to be channelled into the beef calf scheme.

He said: “An immediate response is needed on this if we’re to halt the decline in breeding numbers triggered by de-coupling in 2003. There’s definitely scope for calf payments to be increased under EU rules and we need to maximise this opportunity if we can by directing 10% of the single farm payment into national envelope schemes. We need action on this and the sooner the better.”

The SAC report notes that despite the global demand for beef and lamb which is keeping prices high, significant hikes in feed, fuel and fertiliser has meant that in many hill and upland areas, producers are still reliant on single farm payments and less favoured area supplements. And while calf registration figures are also up, the number of breeding sheep in Scotland is still at its lowest in over a century.

Although NFU Scotland welcomed the signs of stablisation of Scottish livestock, it remained cautious.

Livestock policy manager Penny Johnson said: “Margins in livestock production remain slim and it is clear from the SAC report that growing confidence in beef and sheep production is not shared across all part of Scotland. There are still many areas where loss of livestock is generating a catalogue of concerns. Lower stock numbers or, in the worst case, land abandonment has huge implications for the environment and also has a massive impact on the local economy.”