THE DROUGHT, the fires and the heat continue unabated in Australia – apocalyptic is the only word to describe the images we see daily on the news and social media.

These images are not in some sparsely populated corner of the world, they are from the outskirts of Sydney. Indeed, the smoke from totally uncontrolled bush fires has brought huge disruption to the centre of the city.

Cancelled trains due to smoke from the fires setting off alarms in stations, cancelled ferries across Sydney Harbour as visibility drops to almost zero and main highways closed as fires spread uncontrollably across tracts of land now too massive to even imagine.

Back home, it is not drought that’s the issue, it’s too much water. Fields are absolutely soaking but to be honest, it’s not doing us a lot of harm.

Well, not in comparison to the poor sods I witnessed trying to lift carrots near Helmsley, in Yorkshire, last week. Self-propelled harvesters and the most modern tracked tractors and equipment were still up to the axles in mud as the rain continued relentlessly. Soul destroying is the only way to describe farming in such conditions.

Weather is not the only catastrophe currently wreaking havoc in agriculture. The continued spread of African swine fever (ASF) is now having a global impact on red meat supply chains across the world.

Just as fires consume millions of hectares across Australia, so the epidemic of ASF across China and Asia continues to destroy millions of pigs and, like the bush fires, shows no signs of being brought under control.

Indonesia is the latest country to report a new outbreak of ASF, with the loss of over 30,000 pigs in North Sumatra. Scotland has between 30-40,000 sows and somewhere around 300,000 pigs, so this one incident gives you a tiny indication of what is happening with this unprecedented outbreak.

As the world’s biggest pig producer, China had around 38m sows and a total of 440m pigs when ASF started 16 months ago. It is estimated in the latest Rabobank agriculture report that 55% of this population is dead and it isn’t finished yet. Yes, more than 200m animals dead or destroyed – it’s mind blowing.

The original Chinese outbreak has spread into Vietnam, the world’s fifth largest pig producer and its production has dropped over 20% last year. ASF is in the Philippines, Mongolia, Russia, Laos, Cambodia, North and South Korea, Myanmar, East Timor and now Indonesia.

Total global exports of pigmeat in 2018 were 8m tonnes and to get this into perspective, China is currently short of an unimaginable 24m tonnes. To put it simply, there isn’t enough pigmeat in the world to fill the gap.

Even the most optimistic modelling being published by the Chinese (which, of course, has to be taken with a massive pinch of salt), suggested that by the end of 2020 China will only be back to 75% of normal production levels.

Few believe this is true, but even if it was, that still leaves a shortfall equal to the entire pork production of the US, the world’s second largest pork producing nation. And, remember, that’s just China, not all the other countries now affected by this awful virus.

Unsurprisingly, pork prices in China have more than doubled and Chinese inflation in November was reported at 4.5% – the highest for nine years, mostly as a result of the increase in not only pork, but now beef and chicken prices as well.

As the 1.5bn inhabitants of China continue to crave red meat as their disposable income increases, this is having a massive impact on global red meat supply chains and we will not be immune from these effects.

With the ASF virus being able to survive without a host for about a week and being able to survive for months in processed meat and years in frozen meat, this pandemic will change all of our lives in the next few years.

It is being reported in Australia that 32 tonnes of pork products have been intercepted at its borders in the last six months from passenger bags on aircraft and mailed packages – 50% was infected with ASF. How scary is that?

Closer to home, there have been 50 cases of ASF reported in wild boar recently in western Poland near the German border, a jump of 300km from the nearest current outbreak. Germany, not surprisingly, is nervous.

In fact, the government has started erecting fences on its border to try and keep wild boar out, but I guess that’s as much to do with gesture politics as any serious attempt to stop the march of this relentless killer. Animal to animal transfer, ticks to animal transfer and, of course, infected meat carrying the virus, makes fences a bit futile.

However, as well as increasing pig prices across the world, what else can we expect from the continued spread of ASF? Well, sheep prices are already flying in the UK as NZ exports head to China and other Asian countries affected by this disaster.

Abattoirs all over the world, including the UK and Ireland, are being granted export certification and licenses to sell into China. And that’s for many red meat products, not just pork.

So, at last the pain of the last 12 months for beef finishers will start to ease as the new decade begins. There is no way that UK and Irish beef prices can be held down any longer by either Irish beef barons or UK multiple retailers with such massive disruption to global red meat supplies, no matter how big a stranglehold they may have had over us in recent times.

As more red meat and chicken is pulled East to fill the gap left by pigmeat, so that increased demand will inevitably lead to increasing prices for beef as well. Remember, China is short of a staggering 24m tonnes of red meat protein, not to mention its neighbours!

If Polish wild boar end up infecting the German pig herd, then who knows where all this might end?

So, as livestock producers in Scotland sit down with a glass to toast the outgoing decade, we really can look forward to the start of the next decade with some real optimism, partly because of the massive impact ASF will have for the demand for our red meat and, of course, partly thanks to Boris.

Now he is back in power with a huge majority, we can at last look forward to some certainty around the whole outcome of the Brexit saga for the first time in years.

Of course, reaching a trade deal with the EU in the next 12 months will be challenging. But by this time next year we will know where we are heading and what we have to deal with as Boris can now pretty much do what he likes with the Westminster Parliament.

I would recommend that the EU should start listening to the UK instead of laughing at us – as they have since all this started. Of course, we can also leave the decade waving cheerio to the mad rantings of Corbyn, and his cronies who completely got what they deserved at the ballot box.

So, all in all, a pretty dammed good end to 2019. Happy Christmas to all The SF’s readers and watch this space for some exciting early good news as the New Year arrives and a new decade begins!