SCOTTISH FARMERS are reaping the rewards of what looks set to be a bumper year for the cereal harvest – according to the latest figures by Scotland's Chief Statistician. The outlook for livestock appears to be a mixed bag, with breeding ewes and lamb numbers steadily increasing, but cattle numbers sharply declining to their lowest level since the 1950’s.

The first estimates of the 2019 Scottish cereal and oilseed rape harvest reveal that yield estimates look likely to increase by 26%, which could lead to a 29% rise in production, to 3.2 million tonnes.

Spring barley is expected to see a rise in yield and production and winter barley is predicted to lead to an 18% increase in yield and a 53%. Other estimates for wheat, oats and oilseed rape are expected to see increases in yield compared to 2018, leading to a rise in production for each of these crops. However, some crops have seen a reduction in quality due to mixed weather fortunes during the summer months.

Favourable weather has also had a positive impact on the sheep sector which has reported recovery in terms of numbers. The total sheep count rose by 1%, or 82,700 with lamb numbers rising by 4%. The number of breeding ewes remained fairly steady, rising by less than 1%.

The total number of cattle continued to decline and is now at the lowest point since the 1950’s. The data shows the total number of cattle dropped by 2% or 27,600. Despite the drop, the number of dairy cattle remained fairly constant over the past year.

The statistics also showed that poultry numbers remained relatively steady over the past year at 14.9 million chickens. The number of egg-laying birds continues to outnumber the number of birds for meat.

NFU Scotland policy manager Peter Loggie has suggested that the government estimates don't depict an accurate picture of the sector's performance: “Our own survey results are fed into the Scottish Government report. They did show that yields were up on balance, but not to the same degree suggested by the Scottish Government estimates.

“Last year, yields were depressed by the dry weather. This year’s crop got off to a better start and, until the wet harvest period, had looked to be excellent," he continued. "However, some crops were flattened by the heavy rains leading to crop loss and some issues with sprouting.

“Issues around haulage have also taken the edge off the harvest, with many growers experiencing delays in getting grain lifted off farm. Growers in those circumstances have been worried that quality could suffer because of the delays and potentially lead to rejections.

“Uncertainty around Brexit and tariff risks are also affecting prices and the mood of growers," he warned. "Extra grain that could have found a home in Europe could, in the event of a ‘no deal’, be faced by unsurmountable tariffs for export to the EU and, as a consequence, the grain trade has been understandably wary of buying more grain than they can sell. Conversely, the UK Government has not changed its damaging plans on UK import tariffs in a ‘no deal’ scenario. That would leave all UK grown crops unacceptably vulnerable to no-tariff imports,” he concluded.