SCOTLAND’S 2011 June Agricultural Census was published this week giving a clear picture of land use, crop areas, livestock and labour on farms across Scotland and according to Rural Affairs Secretary, Richard Lochhead, it gives grounds for “cautious optimism”.
He said: “Like many parts of society, farmers are currently dealing with challenging circumstances - everything from severe weather to the economic downturn.
“However, it is good news that that we are now seeing evidence that the number of beef cattle is stabilising. And despite last winter’s severe weather, we have seen a healthy increase in the number of lambs - despite a small reduction in the number of breeding ewes.
“The increase in land devoted to cereals reflects farmers’ expectations at planting time of a good return. However, although these figures are positive, I know that farmers continue to face a range of difficulties, including the cost of fuel, fertiliser and feed and the difficult harvest conditions.”
Overall the number of cattle on farms across the country has gone down by 21,150 to 1.8 million, dairy farming under most pressure with the herd reducing by 2,306, while beef cattle numbers were up by 0.5 per cent.
Pigs (down by 5 per cent) and poultry flock (down by 0.3 per cent) are also on the decline. Hens being kept for egg production however, rose by 10.2 per cent, the number of hens up by 464,799.
After digesting the census figures NFU Scotland’s head of rural policy, Jonnie Hall said: “This census very clearly illustrates that, given fair market conditions, Scottish farmers can react to market signals.
“In those sectors where returns have been strong, like beef, sheep, eggs and cereals, there are encouraging indications of stability and investment. In areas like milk, pigs and broilers where there is ongoing market failure and prices failing to keep up with soaring costs then there are worrying signs.
“The positives include an increased numbers of beef cows being kept, a key area given how important the beef sector is to Scotland.
“On the arable side, this harvest has been long and difficult and that’s likely to be reflected in winter sowings.
“However, the June census did indicate that cereal producers have been maintaining investment and have increased area while managing more volatile inputs and outputs.
“A 10 per cent surge in laying hens shows a significant commitment to egg production in Scotland.
“While there may be fears about supply reaching saturation point, the changes to cage legislation at the end of this year will see some producers choose to leave the sector and help keep supply and demand in balance.
“Although numbers of breeding ewes are still slipping, the increased number of lambs produced shows improved productivity. That is particularly impressive as it is set against a backdrop of two of the harshest winters on record.
“With flock performance and the market place both strengthening, the hope would be the trend in the declining ewe flock, particularly in more remote areas, can be reversed.
“It is also obvious that in areas where producers are struggling to get a justifiable return from the marketplace, numbers are declining
“A drop in sow numbers of six per cent, a fall of seven per cent in broilers and another 2300 cows leaving our dairy herd should start alarm bells ringing with other parts of our food supply chain and prompt an appropriate response.”
The number of people working in agriculture is 67,806, similar to 2010, but casual and seasonal staff are becoming more prevalent, up by 17.8 per cent since June 2010 to 6,945, while the number of regular full time staff has fallen by 5.4 per cent.