SCOTTISH BEEF producers have voiced disappointment that the Scottish Government is not following the lead of Eire and Northern Ireland in offering financial help for the losses wrought by Covid-19.

Last week, the Department of Agriculture in Eire announced a €50m beef finisher support scheme, and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association is now in discussions with ministers as to how that cash will be distributed between beef and sheep farmers.

Beef farmers in Northern Ireland have also welcomed a £25m Covid-19 package, following an independent report which revealed that beef and sheep farmers in the province lost, respectively, £238 and £31 per carcase at the height of the pandemic.

The Irish claim the beef sector was first hit by the pandemic in late December when the Chinese market went into lockdown followed by the EU market. During this time, prices dropped £40-£50/head and fell well below the three-year average. Farm-gate prices were hurt further when the UK went into lockdown.

As a result, the Irish industry is looking to see £50/head paid on cattle in the first six months of 2020 and a further £60/head during the seven-week period from the end of March. They also claim a payment of £8 per lamb slaughtered for the four-week period ending on March 28 to the week ending on April 18, is required.

By contrast, the Scottish Government has confirmed that it is not offering any such headage supplements to make up market shortfall.

“We have supported Scotland’s farmers throughout the pandemic primarily by ensuring they get their CAP payments on schedule," said a ScotGov spokesperson.

"We already paid more than £0.5bn 2019 CAP and historic convergence payments. This includes issuing £86m in convergence funding as promised by the end of March – as part of the first tranche of a £160m package won from the UK Government to right the historic wrong.

“We will continue to liaise closely with the livestock industry and red meat sector to monitor market movements and prices. We will not hesitate to make the case for additional UK Government funding to help Scotland’s farmers and crofters should the situation change," said the spokesperson.

Hitting out at the Scottish Government, Scottish Beef Association chairman David Barron said: "The Scottish beef industry has always gone the extra mile to produce beef of the highest quality, standards and traceability and continued to do so during the pandemic when they were rewarded by end prices that dropped to the lowest level seen for a number of years. Prices have improved in recent weeks, but they are only now approaching those of 2018.

"Unless the Scottish Government does something now, there is not going to be a beef industry in Scotland," he warned. "Farmers take the hit all the time to ensure the processors and the retailers make the highest of margins. How can it be right for the farmer to take 44% of the end price of a beef animal after three years, while the retailer takes a 56% share after three weeks?

"Something has to done about ex-farm prices which have been on a downward spiral for most of the last two years, when the price in the supermarket and the butchers shop never changes," added Mr Barron, who is putting a financial proposal through to the Scottish Government.