THERE'S a time-bomb ticking in the industry and it is certainly something that a lot of farmers want to beef about. And it's the way finishers are being treated by the meat processing sector.

It's been a heart-breaking – and business-busting – last 16 months for the finishing trade which has seen its farm gate prices eroded on an almost constant downward curve.

It's not long ago that the deadweight price was well above £4 per kg and at its current 320-340p per kg – that amounts to a reduction of around £200-£220 per head – that is a lot of money down on a decker-load of cattle. And it is a bitter pill for those who finish cattle to swallow.

Anecdotally, there have been some in the killing business who have said that they wouldn't be surprise of we see the deadweight price being £3 per kg by the summer.

That kind of bullishness has led to accusations of collusion between deadweight buyers on pricing schedules; to manipulation of carcase dressing spec's; and to downright profiteering at the expense of those who produce cattle for them.

It started with an almost wholesale sweep across all factories towards lighter carcases, followed by the threat of dire consequences thereof if farmers did not comply. The argument has now moved on to the smoke and mirrors that Covid-19 restrictions has afforded processors to amend their prices – again downwards.

Whilst we can all accept that there has been a shift in purchasing habits away from the hospitality trade and reduced sales to commercial catering, the fact remains that much the same amount of meat is being consumed and at the same time that finishing cattlemen are being hit, there's been no commensurate reduction in retail prices.

High Street butchers have said that this past month has been like Christmas every day for them. And there is no reason to suggest that red meat sales volumes have not risen in the big five retailers' shelves. So, where have all the slices of the cake gone?

These are the questions that are exercising producers' minds and the feedback this newspaper is getting is that if government – especially in Holyrood, because it is most acute in Scotland – doesn't knock some heads together at the factory end of the chain, then there is the very real possibility of direct action sometime soon.

NFU Scotland's opening salvo on this (see page 3) is just a starter. We have some huge finishing units in Scotland and that gives them, collectively, a bit of clout and if they were ever to act in unison ... then who know what might happen.

The complete despair and mistrust that is accruing is threatening to spill over into that kind of concrete action – and that importation, recently, of Polish beef was the final straw for many.


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