GRASSLAND improvement is the top investment priority for Scottish sheep and beef farmers this year, according to the results of a Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) producer survey.
The postal survey, undertaken by QMS in January, attracted responses from over 640 businesses located throughout Scotland also revealed an easing in confidence levels, particularly among sheep producers.
“The results of the survey clearly show how confidence among livestock farmers ebbs and flows.
“The bottom line is that producers appear to be less confident than they have been for some time, though their confidence levels remain above 2007/2008 levels,” said Stuart Ashworth, head of Economics Services, QMS.
“Fifty per cent of sheep producers are less confident than they were 12 months ago, with just seven per cent more confident and 43 per cent unchanged.
“No doubt the depressed lamb prices at the end of last year played a big part in influencing that when the survey responses were being completed by producers in January.
“Likewise confidence among suckler herd operators has also ebbed in the 12 months to January 2013 with 18 per cent of respondents reporting they are less confident than a year ago,” he added. “However, 13 per cent of beef producers claimed they were more confident than a year ago.”
Unsurprisingly, observed Mr Ashworth, there was a direct correlation between the level of confidence and the intentions farmers noted in terms of stock numbers.
In total, 13 per cent of sheep producers reported plans to reduce their flock size, but this rose to 21 per cent among those who reported being less confident, with an encouraging 17 per cent planning to increase their flocks and 70 per cent unchanged.
Of the suckler beef respondents, the outlook is more positive with 21 per cent planning to increase their herd size, rising to more than 50 per cent among those expressing more confidence in their current position.
Of the total, 66 per cent plan to remain at the same level of stocking and 13 per cent plan to reduce their herd size.
Not surprisingly, said Mr Ashworth, fears about the direction of travel of future agricultural policy ranked at the top of the list of farmers’ concerns, with the future of single farm payment and LFASS in number one and two places, respectively.
He pointed out climate change policies have moved up the agenda in terms of farmers’ concerns for the future.
Other key concerns cited were input costs; animal health; import competition; consumer confidence; access to export markets and access to capital.
Looking at investment plans, Mr Ashworth expressed disappointment at the low priority given to skills training which just 25 per cent of beef producers and 22 per cent of sheep producers said they were planning to invest in during the year ahead.
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