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Eddie Gillanders: Scottish beef producers make tracks for Dalswinton Estate

By Eddie Gillanders

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Many beef producers from the north and north-east will no doubt be winding their way down to Dumfries-shire for the Scottish Beef Association’s national beef event which is being held on the Dalswinton Estate seven miles north of Dumfries on June 6.

Farm manager Andy Williamson and stockman David Anderson. Picture: Dalswinton Estate
Farm manager Andy Williamson and stockman David Anderson. Picture: Dalswinton Estate

It is the first time the event has been held for four years, because of cancellations caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and it will be an ideal opportunity for beef producers to catch up with everything that’s happening in the industry and view an interesting beef enterprise.

More than 100 trade stands will be promoting their wares and 18 beef breed societies will have a presence along with various educational and advisory bodies such as Scotland’s agricultural college, SRUC.

The host farm runs a herd of 550 Blue-grey, Luing and Shorthorn cows, which are crossed with Aberdeen-Angus and Charolais bulls, and the day’s proceedings will include a comprehensive seminar programme and the opportunity to meet old friends and see and discuss the latest developments in the beef industry.

Most beef producers attending the event will empathise with host farmer, Peter Landale, who freely admits that, despite excellent performance and high prices for store calves sold, the herd would not be achieving a profit without the single farm payment (SFP)

Latest figures show the herd recorded a loss of £81 per cow for the 2022-23 season, before SFP, despite achieving a 92 per cent calving percentage and an average daily liveweight gain of 1.1kg, with bullock calves averaging 407kg when sold at 11 months and heifers 378kg.

SAC Consulting senior beef specialist, Gavin Hill, says the contrast of good physical performance and lack of profitability mirrors the situation on many hill and upland farms.

The event would have provided a great opportunity for the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Marie Gougeon, to meet beef producers and hear about their concerns and aspirations but, having accepted an invitation months ago to officially open the event, has pulled out at the last minute.

Dalswinton Estate with the 1870 feet summit of Criffel in the background. Inset: Our farming columnist Eddie Gillanders.
Dalswinton Estate with the 1870 feet summit of Criffel in the background. Inset: Our farming columnist Eddie Gillanders.

Fortunately, her successor, Fergus Ewing, the MSP for Inverness and Nairn but not top of the popularity stakes with the SNP at the present time, has stepped up at short notice to perform the opening ceremony.

Ms Gougeon, although miffed at not having been invited to the Prime Minister’s “farm to fork” soiree for farming and food industry leaders in London last week – “it would have been nice to be invited”, she caustically commented – has written to Rishi Sunak welcoming the UK government’s belated recognition of the importance of food security and seeking “meaningful engagement” with UK ministers.

She has particularly asked for information of funding arrangements and makes the point that Scotland must get its fair share.

The financial performance of the beef enterprise at Dalswinton underlines the importance of support for the industry and NFU Scotland has this week called on the Scottish government to commit to delivering public funding in the future as direct support under the government’s proposed four-tier agricultural policy.

The £620 million of agricultural support which Scotland currently receives from the UK government is paid to farmers by the Scottish Government who decide how it should be allocated.

Details of the new agricultural policy which is due to kick in from the 2025/26 year is still a mystery due to Scottish government procrastination but the government has gone as far as announcing that the support framework will be based on four tiers of conditional payments – base, enhanced, elective and complementary.

NFU Scotland has called unequivocally for 80 per cent of future support to be in the form of direct support under tiers 1 and 2 which the union believes would underpin and incentivise agricultural activity and drive productivity, while building resilience and environmental benefits.

NFUS president, Martin Kennedy, has made the point forcefully in a letter to Ms Gougeon.

He says: “Maintaining direct support funding to farming and crofting businesses across Scotland will protect £3 billion of expenditure in the wider rural economy and more than £3.5 billion of output as we are the first link in the supply chain of Scotland’s iconic food and drinks sector.”

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