If you think what we saw in USA was big, let me tell you about the two Russian farmers who visited our ‘small-holding’ a few days ago!

This privately owned business has 400,000 acres, and imported 100,000 bulling American Angus heifers a few years ago. All were inseminated with US Angus semen and similar to Montana, they are never inside, being mostly spring calving. After weaning they go into three feed-lots; two that hold 80,000 each and one for 50,000. They own the abattoir that kills 400 per day, average dead weight 330-340kg, average price very similar to here. Their diet is 80% maize.

The farm is totally self-sufficient. They employ 40 men on wolf patrol 24 hours per day on three shifts. Predation by wolves is their biggest loss of cattle. Since they started shooting them the loss has dropped to 1.8% from over 7%. Land is worth £700 per acre. Russia is self-sufficient in both chicken and pork but only 40% in beef with the balance being imported from three or four South American countries. President Putin’s plan is to increase beef production as fast as possible with US genetics.

Following my chat with these Russians, I am becoming more convinced than ever that the developed world in agriculture is doing too good a job at producing too much food. I said in this column a few months ago that farmers and farming worldwide were not in good shape because we were not being paid enough for what we produce and in order to try and survive we produce more! Look what happened to the milk sector just a short time ago. Beef has the same problem now and that is worldwide... will cereals be next? This has happened because of genetics. It used to be called breeding and technology!

Over the last fifty years, we have increased production from every acre, by unbelievable amounts, regardless of which crop. The same can be said for poultry, pigs, sheep, dairy cows, and less so for beef cattle. The truth is the world is awash with too much food.

Consider tiny wee Scotland’s beef sector right now:

1. An unprofitable beef price

2. Do we want a beef sector?

3. If not, then it is trees!!?

4. If we want a beef sector, how do we solve the current situation?

5. Reduce supply?

6. Will imports fill that gap? i.e.Ireland, or is Poland the culprit? Rumours indicate that Polish beef is pouring into the UK right now.

7. How do we deal with the big THREE?

8. Is there collusion or is ABP the boss?

9. Historically primary producers received 56% of the retail price. It is now down to 46%. Is that the real issue? So who is enjoying the gravy train, the processor/packer, or the supermarkets?

It is said that consumption is down slightly. Not so at Glasgow’s largest steakhouse, Millar and Carters on St Vincent Street. With 195 covers, the manager told me just a few days ago that July sales were up by 6%. So who is telling the truth? One thing we do know that is true, is, that prime cattle are returning £150 per head less than at this time last year. In fact it is only as recently as May that they were returning £150 more than they are today. So, why such a dramatic drop? With the UK being just over 60% self sufficient in beef and the balance coming from imports with Ireland being the main supplier, the balance between over and under is a finite figure of only 1 or 2%.

My hunch is that we are being over supplied in the run up to this mad Brexit idea in case the door closes after October 31, and as I said earlier, the rumoured culprit is Poland. So, when will we see prime beef once again realising 380p+ per kg, which is where it needs to be if there is going to be a Scotch beef industry left? The hope of that happening may be slim unless we reduce imports, because the UK’s farmers are not increasing production. In fact when the new weight limits come into place soon, we will be producing less prime beef.

As to when the realistic figure of 380 plus pence becomes the norm, someone who is better at guessing than me might be able to give us an answer! In a worse case scenario it may not happen this year, and to make matters worse, if that is possible, I heard two procurement people say recently that we really do not need a suckler herd because they would get enough beef from the dairy herd with 25% being inseminated with sexed heifer semen and the rest being put to beef bulls!

If that were to happen the grading system would definitely need to change, otherwise we would be having nothing but -O’s, or if lucky a plus O, with a fat cover of 1 or maybe 2. Hopefully there will be enough stabilisers, Highlanders or Angus to keep me going on ribeye steaks for some years yet. Who knows? Maybe the long term game plan is to rid Scotland of its suckler cows, plant more trees, get our mincing beef from the dairy herd and import quality Angus beef steaks from the USA or maybe even Russia!

Re climate change, this subject really gets my hackles up. Take a look at the world map where you will see a tiny wee dot that is Scotland. It has less cattle on it now than it had 50 years ago and yet we are getting all this hype about them damaging the planet.

Everyone needs to read the paper given by Professor Frank Mitloehner in Kentucky recently where he stated that methane from livestock is not to blame for climate change.

Instead, the problem lies where we do not want to look – the huge increase in vehicles on the world’s roads and the vast increase in planes that fly across our skies all around the globe. For example, fifty years ago I used to commute to London on Holstein business at the Canadian Embassy. I could finish milking, leave home 45 minutes before the 8am flight on the then shuttle from Glasgow.

Today I would have to give myself an hour to get to the airport, plus half an hour to park the car and one is supposed to be in the airport two hours before take-off, and there must be at least 50 check-in desks now. At that time 90% of the passengers were in pin-stripe suits and all on business. Today, one has to wonder where everyone is going and why? Cows have nothing to do with climate change. Blame the cars, lorries, planes and the affluence of our society.

Now for some good news and it is a mystery why? In spite of all the gloom and doom in the sheep world because of the concern for exports, we hear of an absolutely crazy figure for a tup at Lanark of 200,000gns, and a commercial trade making a rise of a few pounds at Scotland’s largest sale, having close to 15,000 sheep at Dingwall Market the other day, so enjoy the bright light at the end of the tunnel!