My visit to the Royal Highland after a few years absence turned into a great couple of days.

First a Café Royal lunch on Wednesday with one of my catering butcher members, followed by a stay near Grangemouth to be picked up by another member and taken to the QMS breakfast on Thursday morning, followed by a fabulous afternoon as a guest at Turnberry, courtesy of a member farming friend. At £425 green fee it was just as well I was a guest!

So, having listened to the speakers at the breakfast on their thoughts, I have a few of my own.

The emphasis seemed to be on how much QMS was supporting industry and how wonderful the Scottish red meat product was, without much in the way of actual evidence to justify such claims. It seems as if you repeat it often enough it must be true.

I’m not saying it isn’t true. but in this day and age I would have thought that some verification or consumer insight from export markets in particular would go a long way to backing up the claim, especially if future production depends on a vibrant export driven, high value market, not just the UK domestic one.

To be slightly more direct, if the claim is so then why has the much vaunted 'Scotch' premium all but disappeared. Vague unsubstantiated claims are subject to challenge unless underpinned by peer reviewed data in most other sectors, not rhetoric. Of course, the proof of the pudding is always in the eating if you pardon the pun!

Are levy payers getting a decent return for their levies and are they making money because of QMS efforts or in some respects, in spite of them? Perhaps I’m being a bit too challenging, but it’s a legitimate question that crops up in many conversations and not just amongst farmers.

The economics of red meat production is the crux of this which in turn brings me onto long term production prospects or not as the case may be. Listening to the no show Mairi Gougeon’s stand-in at QMS didn’t shed much light, other than trotting out a mile and a half of grandiose self-congratulations and PC spiel.

There was no concrete vision, or strategy that included genuine commercial production in terms of numbers. Food security being the new buzzword following the Ukraine disaster got the obligatory outing, but we know that both Scottish and English agri-political departments are infested with anti-meat blobs determined to head us down the less meat, or better still a meat free route.

Squaring that circle seems a stretch to say the least, especially when Jim Walker’s sustainable beef report was effectively screwed by those self-same blobs via their anti-meat production Sherpa sent up to knock into shape a recalcitrant Scottish department.

This is similar to the hatchet job they did in Wales when plans to continue direct support for the uplands livestock production were upended in no time. I’m sure there’s suitable explanation sat on a shelf somewhere, along with the Dimbleby report in England, and probably soon to be joined by their new food strategy plans – but if there is, I can’t find anyone to explain it to me.

Long-term production of beef in particular seems destined to rely almost completely on the world market price and the ability to compete either by premium-isation and/or productivity improvements, as yet mostly untapped. Or in Scotland’s case, recently lost!

Since domestic retailer demand is mostly for mince and they seem happy to be selling this at a huge discount to what it’s worth on the export market we can safely assume that premium-isation there is a bit of a dead duck.

Elsewhere, however, eating quality in the top end of the food service sector is commanding a significant premium where properly produced and marketed. This is happening in a vibrant world market for beef, with the availability of cheap product virtually zero.

Australian and South American beef is in short supply and expensive, with SA curbing exports due to domestic demand and politics around environmental issues.

So, what should our levy bodies be doing to maximise the opportunities for UK production?

At the moment, the concentration seems to be mostly on reputation and export, which is what farmers seem to be most keen on. I get the importance of both, but would suggest that this is missing the big picture which, in my view, is productivity.

What if I told you that feeding cattle on a grass based ration can vary in producing a kg of meat from needing 2.5kg of feed to 8.5kg! In other words, some cattle need three and a half times more feed for the same outcome!

Factor that into a cost of production contract if you can. At a time when farmers are saying break even is touching £5 per kg, how on earth can that stack up when COP is varying to such a degree.

This is where scientific data comes in. Ask the Limousin society how important that is! There are beef farmers around the world already using clever North American technology to track feed intake per kg of weight gain.

This isn’t just pulling back the veil on the costs of finishing poor performing animals vs high performing animals. It is revealing the stark reality of the variation of feed intakes/kg weight gain in high performance animals growing at 1.4/1.7kg/day.

At at time of sky high input costs, this really is game changing. The good news is that progressive breeders/finishers in Scotland are already using these tools to focus down on margins and genetic selection of breeding males and females.

Of course, if an animal can put on a kg of quality beef using three times less food than its neighbours in the same pen you get the added benefit of reduced methane production – so what’s not to like?

So, my conclusion is that levy bodies and their civil service colleagues, or some say masters, face being left behind by progressive farmers who aren’t prepared to wait. Yes, reputational issues and exports are important, but not on the same scale as productivity with such huge disparities in production costs that unless addressed will undermine any idea of 'efficiency' and all that goes with it.

This would be a catastrophe for the levy bodies just at a time when they should be showing leadership and not pandering to the latest fad circulating in some Government and farming union circles.

As an example the latest wheeze emanating from some unions is that all consumers are entitled to 'affordable' food. So, what are they proposing? Limit the price of beef? Virtue signalling or what.

Go figure …