The livestock and meat industry must keep up the pressure on the UK government for increased coupled support to help reverse the downward trend in the national suckler cow herd and sheep flock, Alan McNaughton, president of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, told the association’s annual conference in Glasgow.
The site director at McIntosh Donald’s meat plant at Portlethen, Aberdeen, said the government’s continued failure – aided and abetted by the European Commission – to sanction adequate support in the form of coupled payments had done nothing to reverse the decline which had brought the industry close to melt-down last autumn.
“Cattle supply shortages drove ex-farm prices to more than £4.30/kg deadweight which took Scotch beef to the top of the domestic, European and world price league and within a smidgeon of destroying customer support,” said McNaughton.
“It was the last reform of the common agricultural policy (CAP) seven years ago which caused this by cutting the links between support and production for philosophical rather than business reasons. We’re still seeing this today with no real evidence of cattle and sheep numbers increasing.
“The buck stops with UK ministers and consumers need to be reminded that any future meat supply, shortage or pricing issues can be attributed to decisions made in 2013 and 2014 in Westminster and Brussels, not on farms and in meat plants.”
McNaughton admitted that the latest CAP reform, which has still to be finalised for Scotland, was a “whole lot better” from a meat production perspective. But he stressed that the industry had to keep fighting for further concessions from government as the CAP deal was still “seriously inadequate” for the future of beef and lamb production in Scotland.
“Moving beef calf coupled payments from 5 per cent to 8 per cent is clearly a significant step forward,” he conceded. “Where our frustration kicks in is that we should have been talking about an even greater advance up to 13 per cent.”
A more optimistic note was struck by Jim McLaren, chairman of the industry’s red meat promotional body, Quality Meat Scotland, who said although much uncertainty surrounded CAP reform, some aspects of the reform package could unlock opportunities for Scottish farmers.
The introduction of a new Scottish beef calf scheme with an increased budget could give real scope for innovative thinking by paying a higher rate of coupled payment on additional calves over and above the previous year’s claim.