FARMING: New record prices reached in beef and lamb sectors

While the pig sector suffered over the course of the past year, beef and lamb demand and prices reached new records, a new report has suggested.

The latest Red Meat Industry Profile report, produced by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), also shows that overall demand for beef, lamb and pork continued to rise, despite the rise of alternative proteins, and that emissions per unit of output are likely to be reducing.

Iain Macdonald, Market Intelligence Manager at QMS and author of the report, said: “Between the rollercoaster of lockdowns and what they meant for retail and food service, seeking new routes to market post-Brexit, labour shortages and rising costs, 2021 was a really challenging year for our sector, and one of crisis for pork producers.”

For beef and lamb, however, he said the end of the year saw domestic and global demand for red meat from Scotland strong and market prices at record highs. And on the environment and climate change front, the upwards trend of calf-to-cow and lamb-to-ewe ratios should be resulting in reduced emissions per unit of output as the industry seeks to meet environmental targets.

Iain Macdonald of QMS.

In the beef sector, there was a rebalancing of farm gate prices across the year for finished stock as the food service returned and export controls became more fluid, taking market prices beyond previous highs reached in 2013.

Store cattle prices showed a softer uplift, but following a prolonged period of decline, Scotland’s beef breeding herd proved more stable, and calf registrations increased, supported by the greater use of beef genetics in the dairy herd. Prime sheep prices leapt by 21.2 per cent at Scottish auctions during the year, 36.4 per cent above the 2016-20 average.

Although customs controls at the EU border led to a considerable reduction in exports during the first quarter of 2021, the supply chain adapted to the new rules – albeit at greater cost in time and money – which led to a return to a more “normal” level of export activity as the year progressed. Processors faced considerable labour shortages throughout the year, in part due to the restrictions on EU labour, which reduced throughput.

Nearly 80 per cent of the agricultural area of Scotland was grass and grazing land in June 2021, while 94 per cent of agricultural holdings had an area of grass or grazing land, highlighting why livestock production is vital to Scotland’s rural economy.

The analysis also noted that Scotland is self-sufficient in beef and lamb, and approximately 90 per cent for pork at farm level, and is a key supplier to consumers in the rest of the UK. Macdonald said this was important amid concerns about food security triggered by recent world events as well as fulfilling the more immediate market demand.

“This demonstrates the significance of livestock production in Scotland,” said Mr Macdonald, “With extensive grassland and natural rainfall, we as a country can produce high quality, high welfare red meat in a way that sustains the landscapes, industry and rural communities while meeting the demands of the modern consumer who seeks strong sustainability credentials when they make purchasing choices.”

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