'Now is the time for farmers to invest in their own future, and that of our country’s industry, in spite of the lack of government support'

We are an industry that often focuses on the negative; there’s too much rain, it’s too dry, straw is too expensive, and, of course, the beef price is too low.

However, we are currently in a period where the metaphorical sun is shining on beef production, and there are more than enough reasons to be cheerful.

Perhaps it’s time for a rethink – time to make the most of the sunny days ahead. The farmgate price for beef is in excess of £5/kilo, and has been consistent for five months running. The global price is way ahead of the five-year average; weaned calves are fetching £1400 a head and we hear rumours of processors offering £5.50/kilo for 2025.

Demand is unprecedented in recent times, in spite of the environmental cause campaigners. Veganism as a fad appears to have stagnated. At a recent conference I attended, Jack Bobo, centre lead and director of Food Systems Institute at Nottingham University, declared ‘people will not change their diets to save their own lives, so don’t expect them to do it to save the planet’.

Whilst I’m certainly not advocating that we ignore the environmental challenge, there will continue to be a serious global demand for beef until we reach predicted peak global population in 2050.

In the UK, net migration added 1.3 million people to the population in the two years to June 2023; we are adding a city greater than the size of Glasgow annually, which creates corresponding demand and we need to be ready to, well, meat it.

If ever there was a modern time for us to rise and be that nation again, it’s now. While we’d like to have a government that values food production, and the foresight to ensure its security, we’re getting used to fighting for our livelihood without their support.

Now is the time for farmers to invest in their own future, and that of our country’s industry, in spite of the lack of government support. An increase in national suckler herd numbers will meet rising demand, ensure ongoing food security, and guarantee the critical mass of our industry is not further reduced, avoiding dangerous levels which could have far reaching impacts in the future.

As we approach the general election, the main parties are all trying to organise their various departmental manifestos and commitments. In finding a solution to replace the discontinued CAP, the devolved governments across the UK have come up with individual proposals which vary dramatically in content.

In England - in spite of what others think or say - SFI is progressing well. Some livestock producers can now recover the equivalent of the old BPS - even more in some cases - and although upland units still need more support, there are very encouraging signs from what was a slow start.

In Northern Ireland, they are looking at headage support, and will pay premiums for herds calving at two years, reducing both days to calving and age at slaughter. Their scheme will provide food and environmental gains, albeit using proverbial carrots, and all achieved in the absence of a sitting government for well over two years!

Wales is a well-reported car crash with more negatives than positives; the current consultation is beyond frightening. Their proposal includes 10% of land to be planted with trees, and a further 10% in habitat, but doesn’t include details of who will bear the burden of a significant drop in the value of the agricultural land.

It’s hard enough to make a profit margin as it is – imagine trying it if 20% of your land is excluded. Worse still, it appears there is nothing in the proposal which prevents them from increasing the 10% requirements in the future.

However, unlike Scotland, they do at least HAVE a policy overview. Scotland’s policy – at the time of writing - is a complete mystery. All we see so far is a new agricultural bill, which amounts to a framework that allows the current - and subsequent - governments far too much power to manipulate the industry.

Nearly eight years on from the Brexit vote, and there is not one piece of Scottish delivery meat on the financial support bone, with the exception of a fledgling policy that is under development - the SSBSS-Scottish Suckler Beef Support Scheme.

It frustrates me that the money to fund this scheme - which was originally intended to recognise the wider benefits of suckler cows in rural communities and support beef producers - is now being used as a stick to beat the industry - or will be when it is eventually rolled out.

The scheme is to use a calving index score as a means to determine the payment per calf, and this year’s calving was to be set as the baseline year. But here we are, well into spring calving, and there is no policy on the table yet- it’s just not good enough, not even close.

In line with the political parties, your industry bodies are also looking at their individual manifestos; their priority list of the issues and rewards they will be lobbying for on your behalf. Front and centre of ours will be a call for the value of retained heifers - to either maintain or grow the suckler herd - to be considered as part of the Annual Investment Allowance. This tax benefit would allow the farmer to offset profit against the potential loss of sales, and provide an incentive to grow their individual herd.

We will push for this across the UK, challenging Westminster’s commitment to produce at least the same amount of food as we have historically, a pledge the PM made at the Farm to Fork Summit in May 2023.

It’s interesting to note that both main parties in Westminster have recently accepted that food is a public good, and its availability a major requirement of domestic peace and stability. It is also encouraging that the future funding noises coming from Westminster are positive, with the proviso that any allocated money is invested in farmers and farming of course.

I’m sure the political battles and infighting will continue; our fight, as always, is to ensure agricultural policy supports those that continue to provide for their country.