Sir, – This month The SF has published the opinions of Jim Brown and Jim Walker about the beef industry.

They emphasised the need to take control of change and drive it ourselves. We need to co-operate. Why are we not changing or working together? The need is staring us in the face. Who will take the lead?

Last week, Jim Walker wrote eloquently on the need for our industry to start working together. He nailed the issue with the plight of Scottish farming in one sentence: – Some will say: ‘But where would I send my young bulls?’

Why are we allowing ourselves to be in this position? I, and others writing in this and other magazines have made the same point. Why? Are we all wrong? Why are we not having some control over our market value?

There are two glaring issues. Firstly, are we really not prepared to sit around the table to draw up an action plan for the industry? QMS and Scotland Food and Drink agreed to discuss an industry strategy plan last October. So far silence. Why?

Secondly, we must stop reacting to change and start making change happen.

What is the issue?

Size matters. We are the many dealing with the few, the processors and supermarkets. Until we are prepared to start working together and form co-operatives of sufficient size, not just in Scotland, but across the UK, the EU and even in the USA, to match the economic strength of our customers we will remain price takers working on non-existent margins.

Jim Brown talked about solutions to the plight of the dairy industry. Produce less. How do we do that? By co-operating and agreeing with each other, that's how.

To co-operate means big change and we will have a say in a lot of that change if we start it. A lot of decision-making may move up the ladder in terms of breed, carcase characteristics, feeding systems, etc but we’ll still be farming.

A Scottish Government project looking at the future of Scottish farming identified three things that will mould its future – the consequences of an ageing farming workforce; the emergence of farming businesses operating on a very large scale; and our ability or willingness to provide exactly what the customer wants.

Several scenarios were run and all came to the same conclusion – large scale businesses will be renting ground, erecting custom designed buildings, operating with a minimum of labour, using uniform breeding of livestock and employing graduate specialists. This is already happening and quickly. What is the future of your business?

Was there any good news? Yes. Small family farms will continue, but only if they provide what the market wants. Auction marts will continue and will play role in trading stock and setting the market price.

This mirrors events in the salmon industry since the inception of Scotland Food and Drink. Salmon companies were producing 7kg salmon, as that was what was most profitable for their system, but processors did not want such big salmon. They wanted a 3 to 4kg fish – the product spec' their customers demanded.

Scotland Food and Drink developed a supply chain manage approach for its member industries to help effectively meet market requirements. This brought reluctant change with salmon producers, as the other option was to lose market share to Norway and Chile, although it was an inferior product.

Result: They changed. Turnover soared, as did margins, not by £100ks but by £millions.

Reread the last two paragraphs and replace the word salmon with cattle and sheep and the words, Norway and Chile, with Ireland and Poland. The relative carcase weights, you can work out yourself!

There is the challenge for our industry. Are we prepared to change? Opinion doesn’t sort the bank balance. Matching the market does.

Until now almost all change in the livestock industry was driven by outside factors. Are we ready to start driving change ourselves and take control of our future? Who is prepared to stand up and get this moving?

Is it QMS, industry leaders, or you, the individual farmer making that decision to work with others, not to walk away because it’s not all going your way or you got a ‘better’ offer?

The US meat industry is facing the same challenges as us. Yes, their meat is cheaper, why? Many ranchers expect to be bankrupt by Christmas.

If we don’t take action we will follow. Margins for all of us are too tight and we must accept our own responsibility in that.

The Scotch brand is big, it is powerful and it is strong. We must understand that and get Scottish Farming PLC up and running by working together and not walking away when it doesn’t entirely suit our opinion.

Alasdair Macnab