Looking Back to Look Forward
The Scottish Farmer
28 December 2002, p. 12.
LOOKING AHEAD and making forecasts is a hazardous occupation and it usually has to be based on what has happened in the past.
The last six years have in general terms been particularly difficult for all sectors of the livestock industry - BSE, classical swine fever and then foot-an-mouth. MLC's autumn publication of meat demand trends makes for interesting, but often depressing reading.
Starting with beef in 1996 total production was rated at 701,000 tonnes with imports at 187,000 tonnes and exports, yes there were exports then, at 58,000 tonnes.
Production held up well between 1996 and 2000 at around 700,000 tonnes, but imports rose to 204,000 tonnes.
But, come 2001 and the foot-and-mouth crisis and beef production was severely hit with a fall to 652,000 tonnes with imports rising to 261,000 tonnes.
In the current year, MLC estimate that total production will be 634,000 tonnes with imports rising once again to 295,000 tonnes of which more than one third will come from the Irish Republic.
The prediction for 2003 in terms of overall production is grim at just 552,000 tonnes with imports at 390,000 tonnes. If that forecast is correct then the UK will have lost 150,000 tonnes of production in just seven years and seen imports double.
But it could well be that the 552,000 tonnes of production forecast for next year  is overly pessimistic. Cow beef will make a return and there is a strong suspicion that more bull beef from the dairy herds will make an appearance on the market.
The situation with the sheep sector over those same years is slightly more encouraging.
In 1997, the industry's production was 345,000 tonnes, imports were 149,000 tonnes, but there was a healthy export trade at 130,000 tonnes. Consumption of sheepmeat was estimated at 366,000 tonnes.
Meanwhile, the strength of sterling against the euro hit the export trade which declined to 99,000 tonnes. However, total consumption increased to 388,000 tonnes - the highest level for many years.
Cue 2001 and foot-and-mouth and production fell back to just 258,00 tonnes, some 90,000 tonnes less than 1996. Imports increased slightly to 106,000 tonnes while the export trade performed remarkably at 31,000 tonnes, given all the problems of that most awful year.
This year , production is estimated to have recovered to 291,000 tonnes, with imports up marginally at 115,000 tonnes and 62,000 tonnes of exports. Consumption is forecast to be 340,000 tonnes.
However, that may be a generous estimate, given that purchases of lamb fell in the autumn in response to relatively good prices for producers. Next year  looks set to be much of the same, though there will be a modest increase in production, possibly to 300,000 tonnes. Imports will increase slightly but there is the prospect of increased exports, especially if sterling weakens. But the bottom line remains that in just three years the sheep sector will have lost 60,000 tonnes of production.
But it is in the pig sector where the red meat industry has seen the greatest downsizing. In 1996 the UK produced 778,000 tonnes of pork and 241,000 tonnes of bacon with total imports of pigmeat amounting to 162,000 tonnes. Consumption of pork and bacon was 1.25m tonnes.
In 2003, it is likely that production of pork will be down to barely 550,000 tonnes with bacon at only 173,000 tonnes.
Effectively, the UK pig sector is forecast to see total production fall from over 1m tonnes in 1996 to just 723,000 tonnes next year. Consumption will be broadly similar to 1996, so the winners are producers throughout the rest of the EU, especially in Denmark and the Netherlands.