Farming: Food for thought at Anuga

Jim McLaren was in Cologne for the annual food fair. Picture: Alan Richardson
Jim McLaren was in Cologne for the annual food fair. Picture: Alan Richardson
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Scottish livestock farmers were yesterday given an upbeat message by Jim McLaren, the chairman of the red meat promotional body Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).

Speaking from the QMS stand at the Anuga food fair in Cologne, McLaren said: “I want Scottish farmers to know there is a fantastic opportunity both now and in the future for beef, lamb and pork produced in Scotland.”

He added that such a message in previous years, when the demand had been more cyclical, might have left farmers who had increased their livestock numbers looking like “busy fools” as the price clattered downwards.

“We are in a different world nowadays, with a more sustained demand and it comes from a wider range of countries,” he said.

McLaren said the optimism also came from a market increasingly affected by a shortage of supply, a situation he described as currently producing the biggest challenge for the industry.

He did not believe it was possible to entice those who had left livestock farming back into keeping cattle or sheep, saying the future lay either in existing producers upping their numbers or new entrants coming into the industry.

The key for the latter group deciding whether or not to start beef or lamb production might lie in the support system, where at the very least they would start with the same level of subsidy as existing farmers.

He also spoke about the possibility of allowing calves from the dairy herd into the Scotch beef scheme but said the potential downside – producing poorer-quality beef – had to be considered.

Talking of dairy herds, he said: “We would need to see a radical change on the ground with sexed semen being used on the better half of the herd to provide better cows.”

Then you would use a beef bull on the other half of the dairy herd he explained.

But whatever move was made to increase cattle numbers, McLaren was adamant there would be no quick fix.

UK Secretary of State Owen Paterson, at Anuga to launch the UK’s Food and Drink Export Action Plan, agreed the supply of beef cattle was leaving the market short at a time of expansion.

But he rejected a suggestion that farm policies should be changed to ensure more cattle were kept down on the farm.

“That is up to farmers,” he said. “We should not interfere. That is how the CAP [common agricultural policy] got into a muddle last time.”

Paterson also said that progress was being made on the thorny issue of levy repatriation where QMS currently claims, with promotional levies being collected at abattoirs, it losing about £1.4 million annually through livestock being raised in Scotland and slaughtered in England and Wales.

“I should be able to make an announcement shortly,” he said.

Although, he did not refer to the detail of any negotiated settlement, it is believed that it will not involve any cash sum coming to Scotland – much more likely is an agreement on access negotiations for exports.