Supermarkets want quality products as cheap as possible

It is almost – and I emphasise the ‘almost’ – possible, according to the Met office, that by the end of this week we will have warmer weather than May managed to provide.

Cue chorus of ‘That wouldn’t be difficult’, because in general and for most of us May was a miserable month. So welcome flaming June. Even a moderately warm June will be welcome, especially for farmers and gardeners waiting for signs of rapid crop growth to replace the reluctant slow-motion of plants inching upwards during the past few weeks.

If we could compare crops at the beginning of May with the end of the month we would, of course, see that they had developed. In fact there must be a mobile phone app or a lap-top function to show that.

But for those of us relying on memory and eyesight, both fraying a little round the edges, we seemed to have had four or five long weeks when nothing much happened in the fields. Given some warmth, crops will now, metaphorically, take off and race through growth stages towards harvest. We hope.

Scotland’s annual Beef Event, held this year at Mains of Mause, Blairgowrie, went well. There’s always an interest in visiting someone else’s farm and many Borders farmers were in the crowd and on the trailers going round a farm that has more than 1,000 Limousin suckler cows and more than 30 bulls. That’s quite a set up, impressively run.

Not for the first time the message for beef farmers was to improve management and efficiency and produce better quality animals. That might seem tough talk, but Ian Galloway, chairman of the company Scotbeef which processes more than 110,000 cattle annually – as well as about 750,000 lambs – pointed out several vital facts.

One is that supermarkets fighting for business need meat, but they want a quality product. They will also pay as little for it as possible. That means farmers controlling costs and production and getting carcase quality right. Quality has improved in recent years, said Mr Galloway, but there are still far too many overweight, lower grade cattle, as farmers think extra weight will compensate for a lower quality price per kilo.

Mains of Mause cattle reach slaughter about 170 days earlier than the Scottish average of 751 days, that is at 19 months instead of about two years. The significance of that is that calves born in the spring of one year go for slaughter at a time of early autumn peak prices the following year, rather than two years after birth when most cattle are sold and prices are lower.

As with every message along the lines of ‘could do better’ and ‘must try harder’, we can’t all respond as we would like. And as noted here recently, it has been found that the top third of farming producers of anything stay in the top third and the bottom third seldom move out of their lower league except to be relegated out of business.