Scottish beef and pig herds grow but sheep numbers drop

Scottish beef and pig herds increased in size during 2015, while the sheep flock contracted slightly, according to Quality Meat Scotland (QMS). 

The figures revealed in the ‘Scottish Red Meat Industry Profile’ show a 0.4% increase in the beef herd to 424,500 head in December 2015, coupled with a 12.5% increase in the sow herd, to 37,300 head.

Breeding sheep numbers, however, eased by 1% to 3.011 million head. The report also showed that red meat output accounted for 40% of the total agricultural output in Scotland.

Iain Macdonald, senior economics analyst at QMS, said: “Scottish abattoirs handled fewer prime cattle in 2015 but, with average carcase weights on the increase, annual beef production volumes were only 0.3% below 2014 levels at 169,200t.”

England and Wales remained the largest market for Scottish processors in 2015, with more than two-thirds of all revenues generated there. Export sales are estimated to have risen by 4% to £76.5m with increased beef exports more than offsetting a decline in sheepmeat exports.

“In 2015 the UK traded less red meat than in the previous year,” added Macdonald. “Imports fell 3.5% to 927,500t, with exports down 9.5% at 378,000t. Rising domestic production reduced import requirements as exchange rate movements made it difficult to export profitably, leaving a greater proportion of domestic production on the home market.”

Farmgate cattle prices fell back for a second successive year in 2015, with Scottish abattoirs paying an average of 361p/kg deadweight for steers, down 2% on 2014.

“For prime sheep, a difficult market led to a 9% fall in the average producer price at Scottish auctions to 167p/kg liveweight,” added Macdonald. “Meanwhile, store cattle prices were little different on average to those of 2014, but the autumn trade in store lambs struggled, with Blackface prices averaging 6% lower. Prime pig producer prices fell sharply in 2015, averaging 17% below 2014.”

The annual average agricultural input cost in the UK declined by 4.5% in 2015 and fell to its lowest level since 2010. The cost of energy and feed fell sharply, with fertilisers also proving cheaper than in 2014.

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