Scotland’s red meat industry is now worth £2.8bn – up £0.4m since the last assessment was completed in 2016.

That was the interesting news story from Quality Meat Scotland this week in their latest assessment of the vital economic contribution of Scotland’s red meat supply chain to the Scottish economy.

However, while the report appears to make for ‘good’ reading, breeding cattle numbers are down a colossal 48,000 plus head from 461,464 in 2012, to 413,444 in 2021 – the figures quoted in the report issued this week.

Breeding sheep numbers are also down by almost 60,000 head at 2,565,429 – over the same period ending 2021 with the pig industry being the only sector seeing an increase at 32,773, up 2.8% since 2012.

The actual percentages of breeding cattle, sheep and pigs is also lowest in Scotland being down in all sectors, compared to other parts of the UK which show some rise in either pigs or sheep.

Add in the reduction in the national pig herd, following the slump in prices earlier in the year; the mass increase in tree planting which has seen huge falls in sheep numbers and ever increasing costs of keeping suckler cows and breeding numbers of all species will be a lot lower than those quoted.

Ironically, the report also highlights the worrying trend of falling breeding stock numbers.

READ MORE: Sheep meat exports rise but beef and pig shipments fall

“Of particular concern is the issue of critical mass. Different parts of the supply chain are reliant upon each other. For example, input suppliers need farms to sell to just as farms need suppliers to buy from; processors need farms to buy from just as farms need processors to sell to,” the report states.

“While transport linkages mean that different parts of the supply chain do not necessarily have to be geographically close to each other, transport costs eat into margins and become prohibitive when geographical dispersion becomes too great.

“Once critical mass thresholds are breached, parts of local supply chains withdraw and the viability of remaining parts becomes compromised, leading to a potential domino effect as supply chains reconfigure and production relocates.”

Other figures of note revealed red meat output accounts for approximately 36% of national farming output, with on-farm output now up by more than £100m, from £1.16bn in 2016, to £1.27bn now.

Looking at the wider supply chain, revenues of £885m from meat processing were generated, £361m from core supply trading (veterinary, machinery, fertiliser, feed and repairs/buildings) and a further £225m in output from other farm supplies.

Within the red meat supply chain, the industry sustains 39,000 jobs of which of which most, 31,200 people are on farm, 3880 in meat processing, 2000 in the core supplies industry – such as feed and veterinary services – and 2200 employed in other supplies to the sector

Sarah Millar, QMS’s chief executive said: “This report is vital to understanding the red meat supply chain in Scotland’s remote and rural economy.

“There is opportunity to retain more value from the red meat chain if more Scottish livestock was to be processed in Scotland, but this requires the whole chain to work together to build the opportunities in a number of ways – as we outlined in QMS’s five-year strategy at this year’s Royal Highland Show.

Livestock farming is so important to the fabric of our rural economies, supporting both hired and family labour, in full-time and in part-time roles, and in-turn other local businesses in rural and remote places.

“What’s also important to note is that, when you add in the further processing of red meat into cooked foods and food service, for example, the total employment contribution of the red meat sector is even greater.”

“The farms and crofts that produce store lambs and cattle underpin economic activity in much of Scotland, and importantly, the hills and islands of the north and west. Without crofting and hill farms, there would be increased depopulation and the hollowing out of remote communities.”

Rural Affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “This report highlights the continued importance of the red meat supply chain both to Scotland’s economy as well as our rural communities.”