Livestock farmers will have to significantly improve technical efficiency if they are to meet the ever increasing challenges facing the sector to include reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving environmental sustainability.

With input costs rising faster than sale prices for cattle, sheep and pigs, Stuart Ashworth, director of economic services at Quality Meat Scotland said producers will continue to come under pressure if they fail to take on further efficiency improvements to reduce the quantity of inputs needed per kg of meat produced.

"According to the Office for National Statistics, the consumer prices index has increased by around 25% and the retail price index by around one-third, over the past decade,” he said.

“The same official data source indicates that the retail price of beef has increased by around 20% and pork has increased by around 10% over the same period, both well below the general level of inflation offering considerable value for money for consumers.

“Only lamb has seen a retail price movement over the past decade of more than the rate of overall consumer inflation which will have contributed to the challenge of building retail sales of lamb," added Mr Ashworth.

The past decade has also witnessed changes in sheep and cattle numbers in Scotland with basic census data showing the breeding sheep population has fallen by around 5% while the total breeding cow herd has slipped 5%, with the beef herd bearing the brunt of the difficulties falling 9%, on the back of increased dairy cow numbers.

In contrast, and despite restructuring in the pig slaughter sector in Scotland, the past 10 years have seen breeding sow numbers rise by 8%.

Mr Ashworth added: “While the dairy herd shows growth in females that have calved, the number of dairy females over two-years-old without calves has significantly reduced suggesting a continued move to calving at a younger age over the past decade.

“A similar pattern appears in the beef cow sector. Despite a decline in cow numbers, the number of over two-year-old females without calves has fallen faster suggesting a higher proportion have already had a calf.”

The average age at which prime cattle produced in Scotland are slaughtered has been reduced by around two weeks or around 2-3%, meanwhile carcases have become around 10-15kg heavier over the past decade and for some this has resulted in a higher proportion of carcases becoming too heavy for the premium retail market.

Furthermore, despite the trend for lighter carcases, Mr Ashworth said that after reversing some of this growth from 2016 to 2018, carcase weights have been edging higher again over the past 18 months.