SCOTLAND’S PIG sector was in imminent danger of losing the ‘critical mass’ it needed to remain viable – and the blame was being laid squarely at the door of the United States-owned ‘processing partner’ of the industry’s keystone abattoir at Brechin.

Pilgrim’s UK, a subsidiary of global pig and poultry giant Pilgrim’s, stood accused of an ‘abuse of power’, pushing down its price to the point that Scottish producers are reportedly leaving the sector at the rate of one a week.

NFU Scotland wrote to the company asking it to review its pricing policies before the sector was fatally damaged.

The Brechin plant had been the focus of Scottish pig sector hopes since its revival as a pig-focussed facility under the auspices of Quality Pork Ltd, in 2016, with producers responding positively to the opportunity and lots of good work being done to increase the market share of Scottish-sourced pigmeat.

But the seeds of the current crisis were sown back then, when QPL enabled Brechin’s revival by partnering with Dutch pigmeat giant, Tulip. That company has since been subsumed into Pilgrim’s, and QPL now finds itself at the mercy of the strong-arm pricing tactics of American business.

When Brechin was temporarily closed earlier this year due to a coronavirus outbreak in its staff, it lost its export licence to China – buyer of around 25% of its output – and in the current melee of world politics, there seems no urgency to have that licence renewed.

On reopening, Pilgrim’s response to the lost business was to knock £15 off the price of every pig, despite official industry figures at that time already pointing to a 35 pence per kg shortfall between producer returns and cost of production.

Howls of protest from producers persuaded Pilgrim’s to later reduce this deduction to £7.50 per pig, but that ‘split the difference’ figure has done nothing to convince producers that the company’s calculations are anything other than an opportunistic exploitation of difficult circumstances.

Groundbreaked field trials got underway in July, for a cattle vaccine and skin test for bovine tuberculosis.

The world’s first clinical field trials of the BCG vaccine and DIVA skin test launched on a cattle farm in Hertfordshire, the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) announced.

If the field trials are successful, farmers and vets will move a step closer to being able to vaccinate their animals against the disease, helping to save thousands of cattle every year that would have otherwise been culled to prevent the spread of bTB to other herds.

The skin test which will accompany the vaccine, also represents a major breakthrough by enabling vets to identify cattle that have been vaccinated and those that are infected with the disease – to date this has not been possible.

A new Suffolk record of 200,000gns for a ram lamb – more than double the previous best – was achieved at the Scottish Area show and sale at Lanark, in July.

Surpassing the previous best of 90,000gns paid for Ardlea Arbennig, a ram lamb sold at Stirling, in 2004, was an entry from father and son duo, Philip and Russell Poole’s 60-ewe flock from Beaconsfield, Upper Battlefield, Shrewsbury.

The record breaker from the Poole’s Salopian flock is also more than six times more than their previous high of 32,000gns.

It was a great day for all vendors too, according to Suffolk Sheep Society chief executive Robin McIlrath who pointed out the huge amount of uncertainty that remains surrounding the export of sheep.

“Obviously setting the breed record was the highlight of the sale, but with a 92% clearance rate (78% in 2020) and an outstanding average of £4762 for 143 ram lambs sold, up from last year’s average of £2993 for 161 ram lambs this has been an excellent sale.

“The first sale of females at Lanark, did really well and I’m sure we will see more entries next year based on the excellent prices on Thursday evening,” he added.

Demand for land for natural capital and rewilding is boosting the market for Scottish estates, alongside the desire for shooting, fishing and stalking.

This was the message from rural consultants, Galbraiths, as they report having sold and bought estates valued in excess of £50m over the last two years. The variety of motivations for acquiring an upland estate has stimulated the market further, which was already benefitting from the booming forestry sector. Demand outstrips supply by a considerable margin, as only around 15 estates will change hands in a typical year. Average prices are increasing, alongside significant premiums being paid for hill farms and planting land.

Partner at Galbraith, Emma Chalmers, said: “The interesting change is there is now a range of buyers with a variety of interests and no longer are the buyers just interested in the more traditional sports of grouse shooting, stalking, fishing and low ground shooting.

“The sales of Glenlochay Estate in Stirlingshire and Auchavan Estate in Angus, sold in 2019 and 2020 respectively, both prompted a number of natural capital buyers to come forward alongside those who were primarily interested in traditional pursuits. However, the sale of Kinrara Estate earlier this year saw the majority of potential buyers with interests in woodland creation and natural capital above all else. This was further experienced when a stock farm was marketed and sold privately, also earlier this year, with a natural capital buyer secured. Thus, demonstrating the changing nature of the market.”

Galbraith reported that buyers include corporations, institutions and investment houses, as well as private individuals with a variety of motivations and interests. Private sales have increased considerably as a percentage of the overall market.

July also saw Borders and Lothian agri businesses devastated by the collapse of grain merchants Alexander Inglis and Son, and are amongst the 166 unsecured creditors UK-wide owed more than £6m by the group.

However, with huge question marks relating to the amount of grain held in storage by AIS and that held on farm by cereal producers, the total deficit for the company is estimated to be around £50m.

In May, 2021, AIS entered administration, leaving businesses more than £2m out of pocket, with a dozen farms facing individual losses of more than £100,000.

The group experienced liquidity issues over the last two years, but the problems date back to 2010 when it took over the grain trading company Philip Wilson Ltd, costing £20m in stock exposure and various guarantees.

The Scottish Farmer was been told the collapse of the group was no reflection of the barley and whisky market but is due to subsequent land investment losses that had not delivered the forecast level of returns.

AIS held large quantities of grain at the time of administration, including that of customers who had bought in advance but left it in storage, third parties storing at the premises and suppliers claiming retained title for unpaid stock.

Urgent action was needed to address labour shortages across Scotland’s red meat supply chain if the UK Government is to ensure there is sufficient food to feed the nation by the end of the year.

This message was delivered by the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) who took part in an all-industry meeting with Scottish Government ministers to discuss serious concerns over labour shortages.

The body has warned that without swift action, there will be gaps appearing on retail shelves later in the year and has stressed that access to EU workers must be a priority.

“The UK Government is responsible for ensuring there is sufficient food for the nation and the current situation surrounding labour shortages in the meat processing and distribution network is putting that responsibility in serious danger of collapse later this year,” said a spokesperson from the red meat body, adding that red meat processing plants are experiencing a 10-15% shortfall in labour.

“In addition, labour shortages in the haulage sector are making it increasingly difficult to secure any one-off requirements to collect raw materials from farms or any equivalent one-off requirements to deliver end product to retailers.”

Scotland’s agricultural support scheme should have no room for ‘slipper farmers’, with income support conditional on delivering food, alongside environmental and biodiversity goods.

So said NFU Scotland, as they stressed that the clock was ticking down on the Scottish Government delivering a new farm support scheme, as it outlined its own proposals, focusing on the simultaneous delivery of food production, climate change and biodiversity ambitions.

The new proposals pull together all the recommendations of the Farmer Led Groups (FLGs) into a single coherent approach, which the authors argue will work for farm businesses of all types and sizes across Scotland.

“The model that we are working on is a baseline of income support that increasingly becomes conditional, so ramping up in terms of biodiversity conditions and greenhouse gas emissions targets and that in itself will engender a change process,” said SRUC agri-economist Steven Thomson.

“It will need significant support; a lot of businesses will need their hands held and real direction throughout this process. We think there needs to be transformation support, so capital support, technical support, advisory support.

“We still need targeted agri-environmental support. Forestry and AECS type schemes will continue to be needed if we are ever to deliver at the top end particularly on the carbon sequestration front.”

Lamb loses to sea eagles around Crianlarich were forcing one hill farming family to consider giving up their best hirsel to forestry.

Situated at the ‘gateway to the Scottish Highlands’, Peter Christie’s Lochdochart Farm has been in the family since 1906, and currently carries 650 mainly Cheviot sheep across three well-established hirsels.

However, three years ago sea eagles arrived in the area and the suspicion since has been that the voracious predator has vastly increased lamb losses.

But earlier this month, that debate was put to bed, as Mr Christie’s shepherd witnessed a pair of sea eagles attack and kill a three-month-old lamb, ‘within shouting distance’.

“We’ve had suspicious losses before, but this is the first time that we know it was definitely sea eagles,” said Mr Christie. “Lambs do go missing between lambing and the next gather, so it is hard to tell, but we have lost 50 or 60 in that time. Of course, the sea eagles would probably get the carcases of those lost to other causes anyway, but seeing this attack on a big lamb confirms that many of these losses are a direct result of the birds.”

An industry-wide commitment to improving animal welfare was at the fore of Red Tractor’s revised farm standards to be implemented this November.

Following a consultation with the industry at the start of the year – which included over 3000 pieces of feedback – a number of new standards have been published, as well as a number of revisions and removals, with full details to be rolled out to Red Tractor’s 46,000 members this August.

Some of the changes include a requirement that all farms with workers must have a written Health and Safety policy; beef and lamb producers must implement a health plan to be reviewed annually by a nominated vet, with documentation within it of the action being taken to eradicate BVD; tethered housing systems for stock of any age will not be permitted on Red Tractor farms; and that dairy farmers must have a written breeding and management policy in place to eliminate the euthanasia of dairy calves by 2023.

NFU Scotland vice president Andrew Connon said: “Like other stakeholders feeding into the consultation, we had huge concerns that many of the new standards created a requirement for records and bureaucracy rather than looking at outcomes or delivery of the principles and we challenged these robustly when we submitted our response.”

A three-month-old working sheepdog pup achieved a new world record price selling for £10,600 plus 5% buyers' premium, at a timed on-line auction through Farmers Mart, Dolgellau.

Newbold Caz from well-known Welsh handler, Kevin Evans, Brecon, is bred from Simon Cottrell's Jew which is a full sister to Mr Evans' top Red Spot dog and sired by his own Red Jaff. Caz sold to the Delves family, Montgomeryshire after showing great potential on the video catalogue.


A STORM of compensation claims from farmers and landowners kicked off August, as the next phase of widening the vital A9 road to the Highlands got underway.

Owners of homes, farms and businesses alongside what will be one of the biggest infrastructure schemes in Scottish history were urged to act promptly in seeking compensation for disruption arising from the work.

Scottish Ministers gave the go-ahead to completing statutory procedures for two more sections on the ongoing project to convert the A9 from Perth to Inverness into a dual carriageway. The ‘Made Orders’ for Projects 7 and 8, Glen Garry to Dalwhinnie and Dalwhinnie to Crubenmore, have been published, totalling over 12.5 miles.

The move opens the way for property and business owners affected, including those adjoining Projects 7 and 8 of the A9 from Dalnaspidal heading north to Crubenmore, to start preparing claims for compensation for losses caused as a result of the scheme.

Property owners who have no land appropriated can still claim compensation if they are affected by the physical aspects of the scheme, such as noise, vibration, smell or artificial lighting.

Ongoing lorry driver shortages hit the UK’s milk supply, with industry leaders warning of a food shortage crisis this summer.

Milk processor Arla reported disruptions to its daily milk deliveries and is calling on the Government to accelerate the programme of driving tests for new Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) drivers and to temporarily issue visas for the road haulage industry to encourage European drivers to fill the gaps. In the meantime, logistics companies have taken immediate measures to try and fill shortages by offering financial incentives to attract new drivers.

Arla’s boss Ash Amirahmadi said that the processor had been experiencing driver shortages since the beginning of April, impeding its ability to transport milk from factories to supermarkets.

“This has now increased to such a level that we are not able to deliver milk to every store that we would like to,” he said, adding that normally Arla delivers to 2400 stores daily, but hasn’t been able to reach around 10% of those.“At the weekend it is worse – last Saturday (July 24) there were 600 stores we couldn’t deliver to.”

He called for a long-term structural solution to the driver shortage issue but stressed that action also needs to be taken quickly to avoid food shortages this summer: “We would like to work with the Government first of all to recognise it is a crisis and secondly to address the backlog of tests for HGV drivers,” he urged, adding that there are about 30,000 drivers awaiting their driving test.

The Road Haulage Association estimated there is currently a shortage of 100,000 HGV drivers across the UK, prompting logistics companies and supermarkets to offer financial incentives to attract new drivers. Arla has committed to increasing driver pay, as well as offering a £2000 signing-on bonus. M and S’s logistics partner, Gist, is also offering a £2000 sign-on bonus and will cover the costs of training new-starts. Supermarket groups Asda and Tesco have taken similar measures, offering £1000 signing-on fees.

Gamekeepers reported a disappointing grouse breeding season, leading to the cancellation of a number of shoots across the country.

With the shooting season beginning on August 12, preparations were underway to welcome visitors back to Scotland’s grouse moors after Covid restrictions disrupted last year’s season.

Last October, The SF heard from game bird veterinarian Matt Balfour that good animal husbandry and effective disease monitoring had ensured the season had got off to a good start – however, nine months down the line, the picture isn’t so rosy.

“In the lead up to the Glorious Twelfth, we have seen a difficult breeding season for grouse and counts are often returning poor numbers compared with previous years,” reported Mr Balfour. “It has been disappointing to hear that due to the very poor counts in certain areas, some shoot days have been cancelled, which has caused extra pressure on shoots and gamekeepers following last year’s restrictions and disruption.”

Mr Balfour and his team of local veterinary surgeons from St David’s Game Bird Services in Edinburgh have been busy working with grouse moors and monitoring the health of birds submitted for postmortem.

To improve disease monitoring in the sector, he urged gamekeepers to take a proactive approach by submitting grouse carcasses for Total Worm Egg Counts (TWCs), coccidiosis counts, louping ill testing and cryptosporidiosis testing, in order to ensure that issues can be identified at the earliest opportunity.

“Once we have completed these postmortems, we are then able to provide advice and recommendations in relation to medicated grit where necessary,” he explained. “In addition, we are able to offer site visits and sampling assistance/training during shoot days,” he explained.

Last year, Mr Balfour reported seeing lots of positive Louping ill antibody results, indicating exposure of the bird to this disease previously in its life. Louping ill affects both sheep and grouse and has been shown to cause high mortality in grouse chicks.

Wool prices were ‘on the floor’ this season, prompting calls from industry for wool to be properly recognised as a valuable commodity.

With many farmers and crofters reporting making pennies for their fleeces, The Scottish Farmer was told that wool is too often being viewed as a waste product.

Straiton-based sheep farmer and contract shearer, Stevie Dunlop, said that most farmers were making a loss at clipping time: “Farmers know we are doing an important job, but they begrudge the fact that it doesn’t pay to clip them, but it also doesn’t pay to not clip them down the line.”

He packed off 800 fleeces from his own flock to British Wool this season for grading and made £269.13 in return – averaging out at 14 p per kg. It would have cost him four times as much to clip them, going at his own rate of £1.30 per sheep.

“If I had a £1 for every farmer who asked me to take wool away instead of paying me, I’d be a very rich man,” he continued.

“The problem now is that people are viewing wool as a waste product when there are so many valuable uses for it. Given there is such a big drive towards green energy, wool is fire retardant and very good for insulation – it makes logical sense that we are using it in our homes.”

NFU Scotland president, Martin Kennedy, concurred: “Wool is a product that itself is a carbon sink, is 100% renewable, has high natural insulation, water repellent and fire-retardant qualities and, in this day and age, should be used ahead of synthetic products derived from fossil fuels,” he said, adding that better utilising the wool available on our doorsteps would not only be a win for climate change and the environment but would also generate economic activity.

Confidence in rare and native breeds was rising in the UK – but in order to support this growth, urgent action is needed from the government to reverse the decline of the local abattoir network.

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust recently surveyed 259 farmers and smallholders who sell rare and native breed products and services, and found that breeders can demand premium prices whilst also benefitting from lower input costs, in relation to continental breeds. However, it also found that breeders were concerned that consumers might not be willing to spend more money on higher quality produce and that a lack of suitable abattoirs could be a key barrier to future business growth.

The survey highlighted that confidence in rare and native breeds is growing, with 86% of respondents having made investments in their businesses in the past five years – 22% of which had made investments of more than £10,000.

Supporting breed survival was top of the list of reasons why respondents chose rare or native breeds, but when asked what they saw as the greatest opportunity for growing their businesses, 66% highlighted increasing consumer concern for the environment and animal welfare.

It found that 64% of respondents thought that overall costs with native breeds were lower than with continental breeds, pointing to feed, supplements, housing and vet costs as the main factors.

The survey revealed that two main barriers were holding breeders back from growing their rare breed business: 48% felt that consumers would be unwilling to spend more for high quality or high standards and 42% of respondents shared their concerns of a lack of suitable abattoirs.


September kicked off with Scottish food and drink organisations calling for urgent government action to tackle post-Brexit labour shortages in order to avert a Christmas food crisis.

In a joint letter sent to the UK and Scottish Governments, industry bodies stressed that deepening labour concerns will put the viability of many Scottish food businesses in jeopardy.

Together, they called for immediate action ‘to save Christmas’, warning of worsening supply chain disruption and impending food shortages during the peak winter trading period.

In a survey by the Food and Drink Federation, of 88 Scottish businesses that responded, 93% currently had job vacancies and 97% felt they would struggle to fill vacancies in the future.

The letter read: “Businesses are looking at all the options they have at their disposal to retain and recruit. It’s not working, and we are now rapidly approaching a crisis. It is now clear that many people who would traditionally have been attracted to work in the food industry from abroad can no longer do so.

“Online and delivery companies have also recruited workers during the pandemic and there is no sign of people returning to the industry.”

The food and drink industry is calling on the UK Government to introduce a 12-month Covid recovery visa for the food and drink supply chain; to commission an urgent review by the Migration Advisory Committee of the needs of the food and drink sector; and to waive the fees for employment visas for the food and drink supply chain until 2022.

The sector also asked ScotGov to embed support for automation in funding programmes; to work with the Scotland Food and Drink Partnership to continue to promote the industry as a great career destination; and to provide opportunities through apprenticeships and other schemes.

SNP MSP Emma Harper argued that the labour shortage was the UK Government’s fault and responsibility: “Their catastrophic hard Brexit and immigration policies have had a massive detrimental impact on the labour market across Scotland. It was also implemented in the middle of a crippling pandemic when supply chains were already under severe pressure.

“If the Tories continue to deny reality to put politics before people, many food and drink sector businesses will go to the wall and many Scots workers will lose their livelihoods.”

Growers were facing their ‘darkest hour’ amid the ongoing labour crisis, with the financial scar of millions of crop losses only paling in comparison to the detrimental impact stress is having on mental health.

On-farm labour and haulage driver shortages were leaving broccoli and cauliflower growers in the East of Scotland with losses of between £10,000 and £90,000 every day. To date, 5.5m broccoli heads and 1.5m cauliflower heads have reportedly gone to waste.

Managing director of East of Scotland Growers, Andrew Faichney, told The SF that his growers are having to make assessments in the coming week about next year’s harvest, but aren’t in the frame of mind to do so.

“This has been an emotional rollercoaster for our growers, many are not themselves and can’t think rationally with the stress they are facing,” he said.

“We are asking people to make decisions in the coming weeks about what to grow next year and no one has the headspace to process that – it is the darkest hour for growers. We have had no clarity around whether we will be in this situation next year, which is breaking the sector’s emotional resilience.”

Out of season culling of deer on Scotland’s hills created new tension in September, between conservation authorities and gamekeepers.

On one hand NatureScot had insisted that there are too many deer, and their grazing activity must be curtailed if Scotland’s efforts to increase its forestry cover are to succeed – on the other hand, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, which contributed to current codes for humane deer control, insisted that seasonal limits on culling are there for the welfare of calves too young to be left motherless.

However, underlying the row were political issues of landownership and land use, with NatureScot perceived to be favouring the interests of largely publicly-owned forestry by granting the out-of-season cull licence, over the commercial concerns of privately owned deerstalking businesses, which would much rather the deer population be available for its customers to shoot.

Forestry and Land Scotland made much of the species’ ‘increasing levels of negative impact’ on Scotland’s national forests. With up to 150 million young trees vulnerable to damage, the cost of deer grazing to the sector is now put at several million pounds annually.

FLS’ head of wildlife management, Ian Fergusson, said: “The total number of all four deer species across Scotland is now estimated to be around one million and our surveys show deer population levels ranging from four deer per km2 to as high as 64 deer per km2 in some areas. A widely accepted sustainable population balance for woodlands and biodiversity protection is between two and seven deer per km2.

“The current high levels of deer numbers pose a particular threat to establishing young trees and areas of forest regeneration which are a vital part of Scotland’s response to the climate emergency,” said Mr Fergusson. “It can also be ruinous to biodiversity projects and also poses a threat to the overall health of the herd, which in winter could struggle to find enough food and may result in many animals suffering a slow death from starvation.”

Farmers were being urged to ‘bank a lamb’ to help tell the positive story of sheep farming – and promote eating lamb for St Andrew’s Day.

Following the success of last year’s project, which saw 1.2 tonnes of lamb delivered into schools, the Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland has created a ‘Lamb Bank’ to give even more children the opportunity to taste, eat and cook with Scotch Lamb on the patron saint’s day this November 30.

More than 175 schools – with 24,292 school pupils – have already signed up for the Lamb Bank for 2021, an increase from the 11,600 recipients in 115 schools last year.

Executive director of IAAS, Neil Wilson, said: “There is no better way to market a product than to get it in front of people and this is an amazing opportunity to showcase lamb to the next generation of consumers – especially when many may not often have the chance to enjoy it. It creates conversation around it and gives teachers the springboard to talk about how sheep are reared in Scotland and the importance of lamb to nutrition, livelihoods, the economy and the land.”

Proposals to explore gene editing in the UK post-Brexit were welcomed by NFU Scotland as a positive step towards a net zero future.

Gene editing is amongst several technological innovations that are to be explored in the coming weeks by the UK Government as it looks to remove the ‘special status’ that EU retained law still holds in UK legislation.

Supporters of gene editing have long argued that as it only involves DNA from within an organism’s own genome, and amounts to no more than a speeding up of gene selection processes that could occur naturally, the technology’s products should not be treated with the same suspicion as is aimed at genetically modified (GM) crops.

The UK Government completed a consultation about the regulation of genetic technologies with a view to changing the legislative framework on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) so that it no longer applied to organisms produced by gene editing and other genetic technologies. It is due to publish its findings at the end of this month. However, it has already publicly stated that reforming the regulations around gene-edited organisms, will ‘enable more sustainable and efficient farming and help produce healthier and more nutritious food’.

The NFU predicted that gene-edited produce could be on shop shelves within five years and outdoor trials have already been launched to grow genetically edited wheat that removes acrylamide – the carcinogen that occurs when bread is toasted.

Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, Lord Frost said: “From rules on data storage to the ability of businesses to develop new green technologies, overbearing regulations were often conceived and agreed in Brussels with little consideration of the UK national interest. We now have the opportunity to do things differently and ensure that Brexit freedoms are used to help businesses and citizens get on and succeed.

“The Government will go further and faster to create a competitive, high-standards regulatory environment which supports innovation and growth across the UK as we build back better from the pandemic.”

At the last count, there were some 27,000 native Greylag geese enjoying the hospitality of the arable and pasture fields of Orkney – but nonetheless, official efforts to support their control abruptly ended.

Scotland’s nature quango, NatureScot, informed Local Goose Management Groups on Uist, Tiree and Coll, Lewis and Harris, and Orkney, of its intention to step back from any financial support for adaptive management schemes for the species, preferring an ‘advisory’ role going forwards.

For Orkney in particular, this official retreat from the problem came as a blow. NatureScot had previously indicated that it would support LGMGs to put in place sustainable funding arrangements for adaptive management, which NFU Scotland pointed out had not yet been achieved.

Orkney farmers’ hopes are now pinned on bypassing NatureScot and getting a Scottish Government minister up to the islands to witness the scale of the problem first hand – and then, it is hoped, find funding for a much more determined campaign to curb the species’ local population.

Farmer Al Watson of Rennibister near Kirkwall reckons that between him and his neighbour’s farms, they are supporting at least 2000 geese. While they are quite at liberty to shoot or scare them as they see fit, the birds are well and truly hefted, and will return from losses and scares in a matter of hours.

“We’ve got them all year round, always eating, always making a mess. Sure we can shoot them, but with these numbers, you are shooting when you should be farming.”

Mr Watson said that hopes of a goosemeat economy which would self-fund control had failed to take off, and the only solution now was determined control by people paid to take on the job, and that would require government intervention.

Read more: A look back at Scottish farming's 2021 (part four)