By Jim McLaren
At the request of the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and the Environment, Richard Lochhead, the Beef 2020 short life industry group was created to develop recommendations to policy makers and others that will facilitate sustainable and long term growth in beef production levels within Scotland.
At the most basic level of analyses, our sectors challenge can be described as the production of the greatest number of live, healthy calves possible as a percentage of cows put to the bull, which go on to lead productive, healthy lives reaching their maximum potential for finishing or breeding in the timeframe and at the specification which the pre-identified market requires.
The recommendations within this report are designed to be owned and adopted by the Scottish Beef Industry to develop a culture of collaboration and cooperation, to encourage confidence and investment and to create an industry at the leading edge of world production technologies all in a manner which is sympathetic to the needs of consumers and the environment.
The report recommendations are not a reaction to short term events within the market place related to either price or volume of supply, nor are they a reaction to changes within the European Common Agricultural Policy ( CAP). Changes within the CAP do, however, present the industry with both challenges and opportunities, and some of these will be explored within the document.
The UK beef sector is one of the few parts of our agricultural industry which still produces in a largely speculative way. In other words, the majority of producers will not list a specific market opportunity as the reason for having their beef enterprise on the farm. In Scotland we are no different, while most producers will say that they feel they know for whom they are producing their animals; the proportion of animals falling out with the preferred abattoir specification suggests that, at the very least, more focus on what the market really requires is an essential first step.
Producers are often reluctant to expand production through fear that any increase in supply will adversely affect the price of the entirety of their production. Similarly, processors can be reluctant to develop new demand or markets for beef through fear of increasing the cost of the entirety of their raw material supply.
If the sector is to truly grow, then a far greater degree of collaboration is required within the supply chain to allow the processing sector to confidently develop and expand into new markets and the producers to confidently deliver the required supply to meet that increased demand.
When the beef sector is compared to other sectors of livestock production, often described as the "intensive" sectors, we see some very stark differences. The poultry, pigs and dairy sectors continue to invest significantly at all levels of the production process, despite their own price challenges and with little or no CAP support in many cases. Producers tend to know exactly for which market they are producing, and consequently the specification and time of delivery of the required product. Genetic improvement is happening at a far greater pace and the "measuring" of key performance indicators is widespread best practice.
These may seem like simple prerequisites for any production process, but they are often sadly lacking in the beef sector.
Other challenges such as the agenda surrounding Climate Change further highlight the need to drive efficiency in production across all sectors of the Scottish economy. Agriculture is far from immune to these challenges and ruminant livestock production at the core of our industry, is firmly in the spotlight. We must take the initiative, and face up to the inescapable fact that whilst there may be arguments for reducing the amount of beef produced in some systems around the world, our very particular grass based Scottish system remains a sustainable one.
The conversion by ruminants of forage grown on rough grazing land which could be used for no other food production purpose, into edible protein for human consumption, is an excellent example of a natural and efficient production process. By enhancing the efficiency of this process still further, through the recommendations set out in this report, our beef industry has the opportunity to enhance both business profitability and environmental sustainability for the remainder of this decade and beyond.
Despite the challenges identified, the future of Scotland's beef industry is characterised by opportunity. A strong home market, growing demand for red meat and premium products around the world and a building national reputation for food and drink from Scotland all combine to create a foundation for future success.
The group and I are in no doubt that with a successful Scotch Beef Protected Geographical Indicator ( PGI) brand already established and a renewed focus on the priorities identified in this report, we can secure a future marked by sustainable, profitable growth.
The report sets out ambitious but achievable targets and timelines with clear suggestions as to ownership and delivery mechanisms of the various recommendations.
I would like to take this early opportunity to thank the members of the Beef 2020 group for their invaluable input to this report.
Ian Anderson, Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers
Stuart Ashworth, Quality Meat Scotland
James Graham, Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society
John Gregor, Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers Scotland
Scott Henderson, Scottish Beef Association
Gavin Hill, Scotland's Rural College
Alan Kennedy, Scottish Federation of Meat Traders Association
Rob Livesey, National Farmers Union Scotland
Martin Morgan, Scottish Government
Dave Steel, New Entrants Panel
Frank Strang, Scottish Government
Louise Welsh, retail representative
James Withers, Scotland Food and Drink
Susan Kinniburgh, Quality Meat Scotland, Secretariat
Jim McLaren, Chairman