5th December 2010

Scotland's Beef, Lamb and Pork Producers Resilient In Face of Winter Challenge

Scotland's red meat industry is proving resilient in the face of the current extreme weather conditions.

Across the country farmers, suppliers and processors are working hard to keep one step ahead of the challenges posed by the severe weather and ensure the red meat industry is well positioned for the demands of the festive season.

Recognising the challenges the industry is facing, Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Scotland is facing the worst weather for this time of the year since the 1960s and it’s a tribute to the red meat industry that they have managed to keep the industry going, as close to ‘business as usual’ as they can.

“Once again the resilience being demonstrated by farmers the length and breadth of Scotland deserves our utmost gratitude. No matter what mother nature throws at them they are out in the elements, day in day out, tending to their livestock and – in tandem  with our hauliers – ensuring that food processors and manufacturers have the primary produce they need to supply our retailers and ensure red meat remains on the menu throughout the festive period.”

Livestock farmers are tackling very difficult conditions to ensure their animals are fed and watered, as well as playing a key role in helping others who live in remote rural communities.

After several days battling to get vehicles with essential feed through to stock outside, farmers across Scotland are also tackling the problems caused by water pipes frozen in cattle sheds, with temperature plunging as low as -20 degrees in some parts of the country.

According to Perthshire livestock farmer, Robert McOuat, another longer-term concern is that the unusually cold temperatures have arrived at the time of year that is normally the main breeding season for upland sheep.

Mr McOuat, who runs 520 ewes and 60 suckler cows over 260 acres at Fornought farm near Crieff, said: "We are managing to get feed to stock and they are looking well despite the conditions.

"However, we will be looking at an unwelcome hike in our feed bill this year in the face of what might well be a poor lambing percentage in spring, given this weather has arrived at a time when the tups should be working. At best we'll certainly be looking at a drawn out lambing season as we'll have to leave the tups in longer than we would usually."

Andy McGowan, Head of Industry Development at Quality Meat Scotland, said the major challenge for livestock farmers was ensuring their animals were fed.

"There's no doubt that many producers have been facing real problems in getting out to their animals but with ingenuity and determination they are managing to get feed to them. Cattle and sheep can cope very well with these sort of low temperatures, providing they are fed but the extreme conditions mean producers are eating into valuable stocks of feed and bedding in a year when supplies are short," said Mr McGowan. 

On the processing side of the industry, the indications are that meat supplies over the weeks to come should be largely unaffected. The cold snap has arrived at one of the busiest times of year for processors who are preparing to supply the festive market with Scotch Beef and Lamb and Specially Selected Pork.

Speculation that processors may not be able to meet the festive demand this year looks unfounded at present, according to Stuart Ashworth, Head of Economics Services at Quality Meat Scotland.

Mr Ashworth said feedback from several of the country's leading processors located throughout Scotland indicated they were coping well with the weather, despite the many logistical challenges it poses.

"The major problem for processors has not been securing livestock supplies but - like many other businesses - getting staff  into the processing plants to handle the livestock that have arrived.  This has caused some short term disruption for some plants but insufficient to damage overall meat supplies," said Mr Ashworth.

"The processors I have spoken with are appreciative of the efforts of the hauliers who bring livestock in and the farmers themselves who are finding ways to supply them with cattle and sheep.

"As one processor candidly put it 'farmers are better at clearing roads than the council'.

"Most of the processors were already building stocks for Christmas and have adequate stocks to meet current requirements," added Mr Ashworth.

And while auctioneers are reporting some disruption, it was not of a level to cause concern at present with auctioneers also paying tribute to the efforts of the hauliers to ensure livestock are being transported to the marts.

Sign up for the latest news and views