Salaries for workers in meat factories has seen a 20% rise due to pressure from the labour shortage.

Brexit migration restrictions have made it increasingly difficult to bring workers in from abroad.

The shortage of staff has started a bidding war among abattoir workers, leaving a trained butcher to typically be paid £26,000 per year.

One Scottish abattoir which wanted to remain anonymous told the Irish Farmers Journal: “We have increased wages across the site and are also running several employment schemes to attract and retain staff.

“For example, ‘refer a friend’ where the employee referring someone has the opportunity to gain an extra £1,000 if the person stays for six months; ‘Production allowance’ which is an extra £25 to our ungraded staff each week if they meet the criteria of no absence or lateness in the week (there is a constant revolving door of people at the NLW level of not attending work for a full week).

“All our graded staff have had significant pay rises this year and also we have protected their bonus to give them some standardisation of weekly pay when the availability of finished stock was scarce.”

Despite pleading from the meat processing sector to set up a temporary visa scheme, the UK Government has kept to its tight migration rules which started in July. This has resulted in food shortages in shops and abattoirs having to turn away livestock.

Earlier this month, industry leaders said there were 120,000 pigs which may need to be culled as the supply chain could not handle them due to staff shortages.

The sector then reacted furiously when Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused any action, stating the pigs would have been “bacon sandwiches” anyway.

Minette Batters, president of NFU England and Wales, fears that the British pig sector could be permanently scaled back unless the Government acts.

Fluke treatment warning

Farmers are being urged to plan their fluke treatment this autumn after the loss of Trodax.

Farmers are being urged to test their cattle and sheep for liver fluke before dosing to prevent using medicines unnecessarily or conditions going unnoticed.

The Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep (SCOPS) and Control of Cattle Parasites Sustainably (COWS) are also urging farmers to plan treatment options given the withdrawal of Trodax from the market.

A dry, cool spring across most of the UK, followed by some hot, dry spells over the summer, means the liver fluke risk is generally going to be low this autumn and winter.

But according to Philip Skuce of the Moredun Research Institute, farmers should remain vigilant.

He says: “We are already beginning to see the first signs of liver fluke infection acquired this year. Using lambs and calves born this spring as sentinels for fluke infection in the west of Scotland, we have seen a significant proportion of both serum antibody and coproantigen tests come back positive.

“This suggests some animals encountered a fluke challenge as early as mid-July. This may seem odd in such a dry year, but many farms rely on field springs and streams to provide water for grazing stock, which can lead to permanent wet patches where the mud snails can persist. This is supported by negative test results for a group supplied by a water trough.”

Treatment options

The liver fluke treatment situation has been further complicated by the discontinuation of the flukicide Trodax.

The injectable anthelmintic (nitroxynil), manufactured by Boehringer-Ingelheim, was licensed for use in sheep and cattle in the UK, with activity against liver fluke from immature through to adult stages.

It was valuable because of its spectrum of activity and because it was also a different chemical class to the other flukicides (triclabendazole, closantel, etc) so allowed for a strategic rotation of products.

The withdrawal of Trodax from the market means there are now only four actives authorised in the UK and available for sheep – and two of those are adulticides that only kill adult fluke. There are five actives in cattle, three of which are adulticides.

Meat eaters going premium

Consumers are increasingly favouring the more expensive hindquarter cuts in beef and lamb, according to Kantar market research.

A study supported by AHDB showed that the volume of lamb and beef sales have settled back down to pre-pandemic levels. However, purchases of mince, which surged during the COVID-19 lockdown, have fallen back 4.4% from pre-COVID levels, with stewing beef down 6%. However, steaks are up 4.5% and roasting joints 7.2%.

IACS appeals go-ahead

Up 4,000 farmers who received reductions or exclusions to their 2015 Single Application Form (SAF) will now be able to appeal the decision. After a six-year delay, the Scottish Government wrote to farmers giving them permission to appeal if they think they were unfairly penalised on their Basic Payment Scheme, Greening, Young Farmer or Less Favoured Area Support scheme payments.

Stewart Johnston of land agents Galbraiths said: “We have raised the issue in the past and we are aware of many cases where the exclusion seems arbitrary. For some farmers, the amount deducted runs into five figures.”

Farmers have 60 days from receipt of the letter to submit an appeal to the rural payments department. The department should then reply within 60 days, accepting or rejecting the appeal and specifying the grounds.

£8m for barley research

The barley sector is Scotland received a boost this week, with £9m of funding for 30 postgraduate researcher posts. The four-year studentships will be delivered over the period 2022-2028 and will study the entire length of the barley value chain. The programme is being delivered through the Barley Industrial Training Network (BARIToNE), with researchers looking at how the sector can reach net zero carbon emissions and underpin future climate resilience of barley.

Union takes on new climate change policy manager

Kate Hopper, NFUS climate change policy manager.

NFU Scotland is bolstering it team to support farming as it reduces green house gas emissions with a new policy manager.

Kate Hopper is joining the union to influence legislation, regulation, commercial practice and public debate around climate change issues in order to secure a sustainable future for Scottish agriculture. Kate previously worked at Edinburgh City council where she specialised in renewable energy, climate change impacts and mitigation.

Looking at her new role within NFU Scotland, Kate said: “I look forward to communicating the needs of Scotland’s farmers and crofters as we seek to reduce emissions whilst supporting resilient and productive agricultural businesses.”