Scotland's red meat trade '˜in a good place' says QMS

This week sees some of the best livestock in Scotland strutting their stuff round the judging rings at the Royal Highland Show.

Quality Meat Scotland says prospects for the pig sector are 'very good'. Picture: Kimberley Powell
Quality Meat Scotland says prospects for the pig sector are 'very good'. Picture: Kimberley Powell

And their owners will be heartened by the optimistic forecast for the red meat sector issued yesterday by a leading economist.

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After commenting on the improved situation for beef, sheep and pig farmers last year, Stuart Ashworth, marketing guru with Quality Meat Scotland, gazed into his crystal ball: “Pig prices are currently good and the prospects for the sector are very good for at least the next six to nine months.”

Part of this is due to increased demand from China attracting pigmeat from Europe where pig numbers are lower than average, leaving a short market on the Continent.

Adding to the optimism is the weakness of sterling – a bonus for both lamb and beef exports from the UK.

Ashworth dismissed the old theory that profitability in the pig industry was cyclical with profitable periods followed by loss-making spells, saying the capital now needed in pig production would limit those wanting to come in or get out.

The recent opening in Brechin of a dedicated abattoir for pigs was also helping bring stability into a sector which has been notorious for its fluctuations in profitability.

Ashworth noted that, by the end of 2016, sow numbers had risen to 36,800, the highest figure since 2010. This figure was accompanied by a rise in the number of fattening pigs in Scotland with a five-year high of 323,300 in December last year.

He was also upbeat about the prospects for the lamb trade describing it as being “in a good place” although with a cloud on the horizon. The optimism was based on old season lambs now out of the market while the new crop was not yet making a significant mark.

The religious festival of Ramadan, which does not end until this coming Saturday, is also a period where lamb sales have risen. However, Ashworth feared a combination of more new season lamb coming onto the market and a fall-off in demand might knock current prices down a peg or two.

Any optimism in the beef sector was based on the tightness of supplies with cattle numbers again reducing.

In a radical suggestion, Ashworth said steps to improve the flow of information between different parts of the supply chain would be key to unlocking future opportunities. If there was better communication, he claimed it would forge stronger relationships between those operating in different parts of the red meat chain.