SAMW raises concern about declining Scottish cattle numbers
The entrenched reduction of cattle numbers in Scotland overshadows every other issue impacting the country’s red meat sector at present, says the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW).
SAMW president Ian Bentley said that, even in the midst of soaring feed, fuel and energy costs, the steady decline in Scottish livestock numbers poses the main threat to the future of the Scottish meat industry.
Bentley explained: “Numbers have been falling for at least the last 10 years, a reduction which needs to be halted and reversed if we are to have the sort of livestock-based future for which Scotland is renowned and for which this week’s Royal Highland Show is our industry’s annual celebration.
“Frankly, if cattle numbers keep dropping as they have done in recent years, we will reach the point where we won’t have sufficient critical mass to sustain the number of abattoirs which currently exist in Scotland. This could also threaten the very existence of the Scotch brand, a hard-earned global status which, once lost, will not be easy to revive.
“We probably have two to three years left, after which, if the decline in numbers has not been addressed, our industry will shrink. This will impact everyone involved, farmers, processors, retailers, and consumers.
“A decline in supply creates its own momentum, of course, forcing consumers to look elsewhere for product and impacting everyone involved in the production-to-retail process. Consistency of supply is everything in the modern retail sector and if we can no longer guarantee to deliver quality produce when required, we will quickly lose our share of the domestic market.”
Support from Scottish Government is needed
In looking for solutions to the current numbers’ decline, Bentley highlighted the need for the industry, from farm-to-retail, to be afforded a more supportive framework for cattle production than currently exists.
“Most of Scotland’s farmland is unsuitable for anything other than livestock grazing,” he said. “Livestock offers the most efficient way of managing the nation’s land, enabling our industry to produce a much sought-after, internationally renowned, and high-quality source of protein. This is something we are very good at, as anyone who visits the Highland Show this week will recognise.
“What we need, however, is for Scottish Government to also recognise the importance of our industry, which supports tens of thousands of livelihoods and produces a great range of products. We urgently need an agricultural policy that focuses on production, backed by Government and its agencies working with us to protect and grow our red meat sector.
“Government also needs to act now on the livestock decline issue to ensure we have the cattle we need in three years’ time.
“A red meat chain which constantly feels under attack, simply because of its very existence, is less likely to boost production in the future than an industry which is properly appreciated and supported.
“We’re working hard as farmers, processors, and retailers to embrace the challenges of our country’s net-zero future. It’s not a process we’re resisting, far from it. We do need some encouragement, however, and we need it now. Otherwise, the red meat future of Scotland will suffer the consequences, such as watching farmers in New Zealand and Australia growing their livestock business by 10% over the next few years while we say goodbye to ours. That cannot be good for anyone who has the interests of Scottish food and farming at heart.”