Livestock numbers continue to fall, sparking fears

Politicians and farming leaders yesterday expressed their concern over the latest agricultural census figures for Scotland which highlighted that livestock production has continued to diminish.

The most dramatic, but not unexpected, reduction came in the pig sector, with 6.8 per cent fewer pigs in June this year compared with only 12 months ago, the June 2012 figures showing only 363,400 pigs being kept in Scotland.

Cattle numbers also fell year-on-year. with a 0.9 per cent fall to a new low of 1.79 million head. Sheep numbers also went back, with a 1 per cent drop from last year to 6.74 million this June.

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Rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said the latest figures highlighted the need for continuing Common Agricultural Policy support payments being linked to actual numbers of stock kept.

However, he added that there was, within the ball park figures showing reductions, also some reasons for being upbeat: “While the census shows declining livestock numbers, this should not mask grounds for optimism as the figures also show an increase in young breeding cattle and young breeding pigs which will help livestock numbers in future years.

“Some producers have been telling me that they actually expected a fall in livestock numbers as many farmers have taken advantage of record prices at the marts. However, we need to maintain a healthy livestock sector and that means we need producers to have the confidence to plan for the long term.”

For NFU Scotland, Bob Carruth said the downward trend in both the cattle herd and sheep flock was disappointing. “Improved market returns have yet to stabilise numbers or deliver the kind of sustained increase in breeding stock that we would wish to see if we are to grow our beef, sheep and dairy sectors,” he said

“The reduction in our pig herd will have surprised few given the costs pig producers are taking on board without the required improvement in pig prices. They remain extremely vulnerable and customers for Scottish pork must step up their commitment and the value they attached to home produced pigmeat if we are to retain a critical mass of sows in the country.

“For Scotland to continue to drive its food and drink sector forward, we need to see signs of stability and growth in our primary production sector to provide our manufacturers with the necessary raw materials. This set of census figures suggest that price volatility, hikes in input costs and poor weather are still undermining any sustained benefit from better market returns in crops and livestock.”

While livestock – or “horn” figures were down, “corn” figures rose, with the acreage under cereals increasing by 10,600 hectares, or 2.4 per cent to 457,700 hectares.

The Scottish poultry flock increased by 167,600, or 1.2 per cent to 14.69 million and reversing a long-term downward trend, the number of people employed in Scottish agriculture rose to 68,400, some 630 more than 12 months previously.