For Northumberland and Cumbrian farmers trading over the border, the future strength and development of Scotland’s meat industry is delicately poised going into 2014, the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) said.
President Alan McNaughton explained: “The potential for growth and development for our industry is enormous, with strong export opportunities emerging on a regular basis.
“However, extremely tight livestock supplies and a sharp rise in cattle prices in recent months are having a limiting effect on business development, with the likelihood that similar pressures will carry over into next year.
“There have been many points of progress in the past year but in almost every instance each new gain or opportunity has been accompanied by a risk or a threat which could prevent our industry from fulfilling its potential.
“For example, securing Scottish Government agreement to an 8% coupled payment for beef calves through CAP Reform, up from the previous 4.5%, was obviously a 2013 highlight achievement.
“But unless the rest of the CAP package delivers what productive farmers need to commit to beef long-term, we could still see the new coupled payment advantage being swept away in 2014.
“The whole industry is delicately balanced at present, with the potential for real advances to be made on one hand; or for producers, on the other, to decide that their combined package of CAP payments doesn’t add up to enough to take them forward.
“A negative response on this would be a massive disappointment, given the growth of export opportunities available to Scotland’s meat sector.
“Everything depends, however, on getting sufficient livestock to supply traditional home market outlets, which have long been our industry’s bread and butter, as well as meeting new export opportunities.
“What is already clear is that the current supply/demand/price pattern cannot continue much longer without causing serious damage to our industry.
“Cattle prices have risen by 15% since the beginning of 2013 while market returns have increased by just 7%. There is no way these two figures add up.”
Turning to other developments in 2013, Mr McNaughton targeted continuing concerns regarding bureaucracy and red tape.
“There’s no doubt we’ve made progress on these factors this year but there still seems to be a mountain to climb in relation to far too many points,” he said.
“Prime examples of this include the torturous process we’ve been faced with during the implementation of new animal movement regulations and the introduction of new certificates of animal welfare competence for plant workers.”
He also commented on the steady removal of BSE restrictions, and the modernisation of meat inspection: “Having secured a new structure for pigs in 2013, we look forward to achieving similar advances for sheep and cattle in 2014.
“Overall, we are delighted to be able to record the achievements made, the regulatory adjustments put in place and the support platform which is being built for 2014.
“At the same time, we remain keenly aware of the delicate state of our industry, the work which still needs to be done and the challenges which face us all.”