The release yesterday of Scottish agricultural statistics for last year confirmed both the effect of the wet autumn and also the economic pressures on the industry.
Not unexpectedly, the acreage of wheat in the ground in December was down 15 per cent on the previous 12 months, with only 84,000 hectares in the ground, the lowest figures for the past decade.
The area sown in oilseed rape was also down but not so badly as wheat, showing only a 2 per cent decline on the 2011 figure.
Surprisingly, both winter barley and winter oat acreages were up but both are relatively minor crops in Scotland leaving an overall decrease of 5 per cent in winter crop areas, equivalent to 9,800 hectares.
In the livestock sector, economics rather than the weather affected the December census figures and none more so than the pig sector, which decreased by 47,000 or 13 per cent to 321,100, a new low for the sector. This follows a 7 per cent reduction from the 2012 June census and both reflect the on-going effects of the closure of Vion’s processing plant.
The December sheep figures were also distorted by the weather with the first increase in numbers (by 4 per cent) since 2004 being primarily due to an increase in the number of lambs that were slow to come to market.
The number of cattle decreased marginally by 0.5 per cent to 1.72 million. Within that, beef cows dropped by 0.9 per cent to 456,000 and dairy cows by 0.3 per cent (down less than 1,000 head). Dairy cow numbers are now the lowest on record
Poultry numbers went up 6 per cent to 14.8 million birds, most of this increase in broilers with laying hen numbers relatively static.
Commenting on the statistics, rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said the impact of the weather was clearly reflected in both the crop side and in the sheep sector. He welcomed the underlying increase in the national breeding flock and commented that, even if the numbers of dairy cow continued to slide, average milk yields continued to increase, with a “more productive and specialist dairy herd that is better placed to achieve economies of scale and deliver business efficiencies”.
He added: “Since 2002, average milk yields have increased by around 15 per cent, whilst the dairy herd has reduced in size by 10 per cent.”
NFU Scotland communications director Bob Carruth not only commented on the effects of the weather on the cropping side but pointed to the “worrying trend” of reduced cow numbers: “Fewer cows in both the dairy and beef herds mean fewer beef animals coming through the system for our abattoirs and processors.”
He also expressed concern at the shrinking of the national pig herd “Processors and retailers must take responsibility for their part in falling numbers and spark a price-led improvement in confidence for our pig keepers if we are to turn this around,” he said.