NFU Scotland wants to see the UK government go beyond the short-term visa offer for 5,000 HGV and 5,500 poultry workers to plug the gap in staff in the fruit and veg sector.

The union wants to see a 12-month COVID-19 recovery visa for the whole food and drink supply chain and an urgent review by the Migration Advisory Committee of the shortage occupation lists, so that it accommodates the acute permanent labour needs of agricultural sectors such as dairy, pigs and poultry.

A recent survey shows soft fruit and vegetable growers estimating that there is a 20% shortfall in seasonal workers.

NFU Scotland chief executive Scott Walker said: “The Government now recognises there is an issue that must be addressed.

“While the focus around labour shortages has been on Christmas goods and fuel, the impact of the labour crisis, affecting both permanent and seasonal staff, is being widely felt among our membership and that needs a meaningful, long-term approach.

Not just for Christmas

“This isn’t just about Christmas, and it isn’t just about making sure there are enough turkeys or fuel to go round.

“There’s an awful lot more that needs to be done by the UK government to really solve the labour crisis that we are facing.

“The whole Scottish food and drink supply chain has been highlighting the crisis and the solutions needed for many weeks now.

“Short-term visas around haulage and poultry processing may provide short-term relief to supply issues, but long-term solutions are what is needed.

“At farm level, farmers are making business decisions now.

“If permanent and seasonal staff are not going to be available, then they will need to scale back production and restructure accordingly.

“That will have knock-on effects for consumer choice and would be a step backwards for a Scottish food and drink industry committed to growing in value to £30bn by 2030.”

Climate myth-busting takes aim at negative headlines

Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) has published a list of myth-busting facts for livestock farmers to combat negative headlines on the sector.

As COP26, a global climate change conference, comes to Glasgow next month, Scotland’s environmental record and livestock sector will under the international spotlight.

The paper points out that all livestock in the UK emit only 6% of greenhouse gases, which is much less than emitters such as transport which is stated to be 27% or energy at 21%.

The myth-busting also explains that around 90% of the water needed to produce red meat and dairy in Britain comes from rainwater.

The idea that simply switching away from animals to crop production was also thrown out, as the paper points out that 65% of farmland in the UK is best suited for growing grass, not food which can be directly consumed by humans.

Furthermore, the report states that 90% of cattle and sheep feed on grass, silage and distillery byproducts, none of which is fit for human consumption and doesn’t drive global soya production.

Finally, the myth busting takes aim at critics that state little is being done for the environment by livestock farmers.

The report lists livestock’s benefits, such as carbon being sequestered into the soil through actively growing grass.

Grazing livestock also prevents topsoil depletion and floods.

It also highlights the biodiversity of wildlife provided in grazed environments.

Not to mention producing a sustainable food source with social and economic benefits for rural communities.

Copies of the myth-busting booklet are available on the QMS website.

Is US lamb market worth chasing?

As Boris Johnson announces that the US would be removing an import ban on British lamb, will the American lamb eater be worth pursuing?

After three decades of being locked out of the market, shipments of British lamb are getting closer to heading across the pond.

Americans eat around 500g of lamb each per year, which is eight times less than the UK.

However, with a much bigger population, the overall lamb consumption is around 170,000t, which is around half of the UK consumption.

Only 70,000t of this is produced domestically, with the rest coming mostly from Australia and New Zealand.

As it stands, the oven-ready trade deal with the US which Prime Minister Johnson said would be complete swiftly after Brexit looks to have been kicked into the long grass by President Biden.

This means that while the UK has access to the US, shipments are subject to tariffs.

Fortunately, the rate of lamb is fairly low at 00.5p/kg for lamb and 2p/kg for mutton.

New Zealand currently has to pay the rates, while Australia has a free-trade agreement.

Currently, the price of lamb in Australia and New Zealand is within 60p/kg of the UK. This means that British lamb could become an option for US buyers, particularly premium cuts.

However, for volume to shift to the US, then UK lamb and sheepmeat would need to be cheaper than current suppliers to make it worth buyers switching.

For much of the last 10 years, a price gap of over £1/kg between the UK and New Zealand and Australia has been common.

Before British lamb can appear on US dinner plates, there will also need to be some auditing of UK processing plants, as has been conducted for beef exports.

This will likely rely on individual processing plants applying for access.

Veg farmer offers £30/hr

A vegetable grower near Boston is offering up to £30/hour to pick broccoli and cabbage due to the widespread labour shortage.

Advertising on Twitter, TH Clements and Son, a family-owned farm business, is willing to pay field operatives up to £240/day with year-round work available.

Milk price up 10%

The average price of milk for August this year in the UK was 31.24p/l, which is up 11% on the year. The price is up 0.76p/l on July. Prices paid on non-aligned contracts were 0.44p/l below those for aligned contracts in July. The GB five-year average price was 28.74p/l in July, up 4.8% from the same the month in 2020. The GB average price has not been below 25p/l since October 2016.

Good grass growth

Farms in Britain are averaging 40.1kg DM/ha/day, according to Grass Check UK, which monitors 50 livestock farms. The growth rate is close to the two-year average of 41.7kg.

Soil temperatures in the mid-teens have helped maintain growth rates, but they are forecast to fall as colder weather comes at the start of October.

Grass growth in Scotland at the end of September was 39kg DM/ha/d.

Scotland is reported to have averaged 39kg DM/ha/day, while northern England has a rate of 34.5kg DM/ha/day, with the lowest rate in southern England at 27.6kg DM/ha/day.

Wales has the best growth rate, with 48kg DM/ha/day. The peak in the summer was 90kg DM/ha/day for dairy farms and 70kg DM/ha/day for beef and sheep farms.