Scottish livestock producers deserve to be better recognised for the important role they play in sustainable food production and should not find themselves put at the wrong end of any knee-jerk reactions on cutting emissions.
Speaking last week, chairman of Quality Meat Scotland Jim McLaren said that the red meat industry, and ruminant production systems in particular, often found themselves in the firing line when climate change was discussed.
Referring to the fact that cattle feed-lot systems such as those used in the United States – which saw large quantities of grain used to produce beef –were often taken as the model by those who criticised the degree of sustainability in red meat production, he said that Scottish production systems were very different.
The reality is that Scotland is uniquely placed to capitalise on the ability of cattle and sheep to convert forage, which is inedible to humans, into edible red meat, especially so when 85% of the land simply isn’t suitable for growing crops. And although there was no denying the methane (a powerful greenhouse gas) production of ruminants regardless of production method, McLaren said that it was worth remembering that a similar level of the world’s methane production also came from rice paddies.
He said that the whole issue of sustainability was set to play an increasingly important role in ensuring market share for Scotland’s livestock producers and gave a hint that some means of assessing this sometimes hard-to-pin down quality might feature in the Beef 2020 package which is due to be launched later in the year.
McLaren said that many large-scale buyers, including McDonald’s, had pledged to source only sustainably produced meat by 2016.
With the grass-fed systems in Scotland which makes use of land which is incapable of realistically growing much in the way of crops other than herbage, we are already highly sustainable and doing what is being asked of us in all but name, he said.
It is essential that production on hills and grasslands is maintained if we are to avoid squandering the opportunity to utilise these precious resources, he added.
Speaking at a meeting with Cabinet secretary for the environment, Paul Wheelhouse, McLaren said QMS was working hard at assisting the industry to improve efficiency and reduce costs and waste through a range of industry development projects. These included a new network of grazing groups which will get under way next month and focus on the substantial potential benefits of improving the utilisation of grassland.
QMS knowledge transfer specialist Michael Blanche added: “The overall objective of the grazing groups is to increase the kilos of meat produced per hectare through better utilisation of grass.
“There is a lot of talk about performance per ewe or cow but stocking rate is a major driver of profit on any farm.”