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Scottish meat processors struggling?

18 June 2013

A red meat industry commentator claims that, with falling cattle numbers in Scotland, meat processors will continue to struggle to achieve throughput.

Stuart Ashworth, chief economist with Quality Meat Scotland (pictured), was speaking in Edinburgh at the publication of the latest profile of the Scottish red meat industry when he pointed to the reduced number of calves being born as backing for his views.

Even when increased numbers of dairy born calves were included in the calculation, there was still a reduction in overall total. “In 2012 the Scottish suckler herd was 1% smaller than in 2011, at 517,000 head, taking the herd size contraction since decoupling in 2004 to 9%,” said Ashworth.
While this puts pressure on the processing sector, he said that producers would continue to benefit from the shortage of cattle. He did not deny the past 12 months had been pretty horrific for producers, with the weather and its consequential effects on livestock and on production costs.

He accepted the current rise in value for beef was fully needed to meet additional on-farm costs but added that the long term future for beef production was ‘rosy’ with no reasons why the current high levels of money being paid for beef should fall.

Part of this was down to the increased numbers of mouths to be fed in the world but other factors such as the renewed interest by major supermarkets in selling home produced meat as opposed to cheaper imports was also influential.

The overall importance of the red meat industry in Scotland was confirmed in the annual profile which showed it made a £2.1billion contribution to the economy of Scotland in 2012.
The document also reveals that around 27,000 jobs were directly provided by the rearing of beef cattle, sheep and pigs, along with the primary processing sector.

In comparison with the downturn in cattle numbers, after more than a decade of decline the breeding ewe flock edged higher by 0.6%, taking numbers back above 2.8million head. But he admitted that casualty numbers from the 2013 spring could easily knock up to 10% off that figure.

Further restructuring of the pig sector in 2012 resulted in the sow herd contracting sharply for a second year, with sow numbers declining by 13% to 28,100 head.

Annual use of red meat in the UK declined for a fifth year, with consumption down across all three species.

“Higher retail prices for beef and pork stymied purchased volumes, while tight global sheepmeat supplies resulted in limited availability for much of the year,” said Ashworth.


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