Livestock producers face post-Brexit uncertainty

It was a glass '“ or perhaps a plate '“ half full story yesterday, as Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) top brass launched their annual review and faced up to the challenges that the post-Brexit future could present to the red meat industry.

Quality Meat Scotland remains upbeat despite the challenges facing the livestock sector. Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Uncertainties over trade agreements, market access, the free movement of labour and agricultural policy – along with the likely loss of access to EU promotional funding worth £5 million over the past ten years – were some of the key issues that might have had the organisation crying into its beer.

But, launching the review, QMS chairman Jim McLaren remained upbeat and said that the sector was used to challenges – and that it simply had to ask itself what it needed to do to maximise the opportunities presented by the new circumstances.

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And he was in no doubt as to where priorities had to lie for the securing a future for the red meat industry.

McLaren said that securing the right agreements in trade deals was of paramount importance. And that message is likely to be hammered home again today when Andrea Leadsom, the UK secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs, makes a whistle-stop visit north of the Border.

“I’ll be reiterating the fundamental importance of the getting the trade agreements right not only for our farmers but for our whole food industry as well,” said McLaren, who admitted to concerns that some parties might not have a full understanding of the importance of food exports to the country’s economy.

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The organisation’s financial report showed that, while levy income had risen, there had been a considerable drop in grant incomes from both the Scottish Government and the EU.

However, Scottish funding worth £1.2m over the next four years to set up nine new monitor farms in association with the Agricultural & Horticultural Development Board was secure.

While McLaren was reluctant to comment as discussions were still ongoing, there is no doubt that a resolution of the long-running saga of the “repatriation” of red meat levies on Scottish stock slaughtered south of the Border – estimated to be worth more than £1m a year – would help plug any shortfall in the promotional budget.

And although grant funding in general was proving more difficult to come by, QMS chief executive Uel Morton gave a categorical assurance that there would be no increase in levy charges next April.

Instead he called on government bodies to step up to the plate on their promises to encourage exports.

“We are currently involved in the considerable amount of work required to get our abattoirs and supply chains certified to re-start exports to the US after they lifted the ban on beef imports,” said Morton.

“A lot of costs are involved here and at the moment these are being met by producers’ levies, whereas in other countries – such as Ireland – these are being met from government coffers.”