We are accustomed to being kept in the dark about future farm plans, but this week, we discovered that the Scottish Government initiated the Future Beef Calf Scheme back in October without informing anyone. While payments for the new scheme won’t reach bank accounts until spring 2025, registered calves (or not) began affecting farmers’ calving interval figures in the middle of October last year.

The cabinet secretary briefly mentioned the calf scheme at the NFUS autumn conference on October 26, but no one was informed that the starting gun for calf claims in 2025 had been fired.

Did the minister even realise this at the time? It seems blatantly unfair to announce scheme rules well after the calculation of calving interval figures has commenced. Moreover, farmers who suffer setbacks like bulls not working shouldn’t be doubly penalised by missing out on calf scheme cash for two consecutive years. Details for exceptional circumstances needs to be published.

Building confidence in the beef sector is challenging enough without bureaucratic penalties driving people away. One thing is certain the calving rate in 2025 will appear impressive on paper. But it is unfortunate that the government seems fixated on burdening the current popular coupled payment with red tape when there are plenty of botched schemes like AECS that deserve some adjustments.

As the fixed funding pot does not increase with inflation, the relative value of calf payments is diminishing year by year. At current prices, the £105 mainland payment represents around 5% of a finished animal, whereas it was double that a few years ago.

Despite strong prices in the market, the number of suckler beef calves on the ground is declining, particularly in some regions. Auction marts in the North East of Scotland will closely examine the reported loss of 4626 calves in the area, nearly double the second biggest loser, the South West. On a positive note, the number of businesses receiving calf payments in Scotland seems to be stable, with only 1% fewer claimants.

One area of the beef sector that is certainly not stable is the cost of vets and meat hygiene inspectors in abattoirs, which have risen by 20% and 17%, respectively. Such steep increases pose a challenge for the industry, as they are often passed down to farmers.

Before implementing price rises, costs must be meticulously reviewed. For instance, since many government departments offer ‘hybrid working’ between the office and home, there should be opportunities to reduce overheads where headquarters are half empty for most of the week.

Farming shouldn’t be the only sector constantly grappling with cost challenges while being pressured to produce more with fewer resources.