THE SCOTTISH monsoon season continues with an odd dry day followed by a storm, then three or four broken days with heavy showers.

Yesterday morning with the mist hanging over the River Nith, it looked for all the world like autumn. Summer in May, autumn in August – not ideal for anyone.

Lambs that were fattening for fun, now need dry aftermath fields or they don’t want to finish. It's a problem, it seems, the length and breadth of the country. Too many underfinished lambs going through fat rings that are too expensive as stores and not ready to kill has put pressure on finished prices which have actually held up really well considering the crap August.

Hopefully, we’ve got an Indian Summer to come or cattle housing will be early this year – another eight-month winter beckons.

That, of course, would also help lambs to finish. I may have said before, but it’s really apt this year, Neil McCleary, from Longtown, always told me that a lamb needs to be 'cooked' twice before you eat it. Once to finish it – and you can’t do that without sunshine and heat – and once to prepare it for the table.

The Love Lamb week promotion run by AHDB, HCC and QMS this year is due to happen between the September 1-7, so hopefully that can also help to stimulate demand and stabilise finished prices. That and farmers not trying to offload lambs without enough cover!

It is good to see Tesco now really supporting Scottish farmers as evidenced by The SF's Retail Radar figures recently. These have shown a marked improvement in support of Scotch beef and lamb in the last six weeks. So, it just goes to show what can be done when you engage with a customer and they see the benefits of stocking local produce.

The support of Tesco is in stark contrast to the behaviour of Sainsbury's and, in particular, Asda, whose support of local (or Scotch) beef and lamb continues to be pathetic.

It’s weird, because Sainsbury's used to have extensive farming interests of their own in Scotland, so they should know the ropes. Mind you, Sainsbury's used to be right up there with Waitrose and M and S as far as the quality of their food offering is concerned and that’s also disappeared.

It would seem that the hapless former CEO Mike Coupe took his eye off the ball during his tenure between 2014 and 2020. Having succeeded the tough, focussed and talented Justin King, who drove the share price to £3.09/share, maybe he was always on a hiding to nothing.

But six years later, with a failed merger attempt with Asda and the share price at £1.94/share, his achievements and legacy are patchy to say the least. How he ever thought an Asda merger would succeed in its passage through the competition authorities is mystifying, as the merged retailer would have more than 30% UK market share.

Sainsbury's need to concentrate on the basics of being a high-end grocer again, not being seduced by big payouts for senior executives as a result of a merger. No doubt encouraged and egged on by the biggest individual institutional investor, with more than 20% of the company – none other than an investment vehicle owned by the Qatari royal family!

He has recently been succeeded by Simon Roberts, former head of retail and ops director, which is probably a clue to what the board thinks as well!

The focus on the merger would maybe explain why Sainsbury's only stock 16% Scotch beef, or less than 20% of their beef lines right now, because no one is interested? Dawn Dunbia, through Highland Meats, supply the Scotch and the rest comes from ABP, mostly from Perth. Lamb is a bit better, with Dawn Dunbia supplying nearly 60% of their lamb labelled Scotch (half of their lines) and the rest is British.

With the new CEO Simon Roberts’ background, surely this is the time to exert some influence to persuade it to support Scotch produce and try and regain their position as a high-end retailer which has been neglected for far too long.

Asda is an even bigger basket case. Only 26% Scotch beef, less than a quarter of their 40 lines, is supplied once again by ABP at Perth. And zero, yes 0%, Scotch lamb – two-thirds from NZ and Australia and not even a lamb chop from Scotland! This total lack of support and loyalty to local producers and products in Scotland is not likely to get better any time soon.

Following the debacle and cost of the failed merger, Walmart, the US parent of Asda, is once again on the prowl looking for an exit. It has been reported that two retail veterans – Rob Templeman, a former CEO of Debenhams (now in administration and facing bankruptcy) and Paul Mason, who led Matalan (currently trying to refinance their struggling business) and the now defunct Somerfield, are involved in lining up rival £6.5bn private equity bids for Asda.

Walmart really wants to float Asda and exit the UK because Aldi and Lidl have stolen their position as the UK’s cheapest supermarket, so it is just too competitive. US private equity giant, Apollo, is apparently lining up £3.75bn of debt to fund this acquisition and is going head-to-head with Lone Star, another private equity fund with extensive property experience.

The debt would reportedly be secured against the value of Asda’s stores and distribution centres. The plan of either potential investor would be to float the business in the normal private equity investment horizon of three to five years.

So what, you may rightly ask, has this got to do with the amount of beef or lamb stocked in an Asda near you? Well, quite a lot actually.

The combination of ruthless suppliers – like ABP and private equity investors interested in financial returns and nothing else – mean that Asda will remain ambivalent to suppliers for years to come. They will be interested in slashing and burning costs to generate profit to maximise their return at exit.

Although it may be possible to persuade a business like Sainsbury's to change its’ buying patterns and support local produce and producers, you’ll never persuade Asda unless you intend to give your cattle to ABP which I’m sure Larry Goodman would welcome!!

With the predicted glut of Irish cattle disappearing like the mirage it always was and supplies tight, consider this as a follow up to my previous article. Loyalty to a processor should not only be considered based on the prices they offer in good times and bad.

Your loyalty and supply should be considered, and decided in light of where those processors who buy your stock ultimately sell these products.

If these customers (ie, retailers in this case) have a strategy or business plan that clearly has no interest in you, then don’t supply them. If they are only chasing personal, or company financial gain with no eye on the future, or supply chain relationships and your are only there to be used or abused at will, then don’t get involved.

Let private equity companies, including the Qatari royal family, make money wherever they choose, including selling Polish beef in their UK stores, but keep well away. These are your cattle and your sheep, so support those that have a history of supporting local produce and will support you in the future.

It really is your choice – to be a permanent price taker, or to seize the chance to gain some control in the supply chain. Think about it.