Scottish Dairy Agriculture is Under Threat

Scottish Dairy Agriculture is Under Threat

Animal agriculture: a herd of Holstein-Friesian cattle

The Scottish Dairy Cattle Association (SDCA) have issued a statement describing the current state of dairy farming in Scotland. Whilst it does mention some interesting recent developments, such as a very slight increase in average herd size over the last 12 months (a difference of 2 cows, which brings it to an all-time maximum of 203), it is the first paragraph of their statement that should really be the headline, being as it is, another reminder that Scottish dairy agriculture might eventually fail:

“The 1st. of January 2020 dairy herd statistics for Scotland, released by the Scottish Dairy Cattle Association, show a decrease in cow numbers and Dairy Herds with a net loss of 12 herds and 1048 less cows compared to January 2019.”

In other words, the total number of dairy cows has decreased by almost 0.6% from 179,538 to 178,490, and the total number of dairy herds has decreased by just over 1.3% from 891 to 879, over the last 12 months. Note that these figures represent a net decrease: for instance, 27 herds were lost whilst 15 new dairies were founded. Curiously, the SDCA seems determined to attempt to present this in a positive light from their side:

“2019 saw a lot of uncertainty for some dairy farmers within Scotland but many others have made the commitment to make dairying their future and for the generations that follow.”

Interestingly, the statement also goes on to describe the changes in herd numbers that have been recorded over the last 117 years since 1903, (when records began). It describes how, over this time period, the total number of dairy herds in Scotland has decreased from 5,735 to just 879, in other words a drop of more than 84.6% over the last century.

All of this gives more hope that the dairy industry is not here to stay, and that it might gradually, albeit excruciatingly slowly, becoming less and less economically viable, at least in certain markets. This trend constitutes major worries for the dairy industry at this point in time. The reality, however, is that this does not actually represent some new catastrophe for farmers, who, instead of raising cattle, could move into arable cropping, some other area of the agri-industry, or even a completely different economic sector. In any case, the above-quoted figures do demonstrate a massive decline in herd and cattle numbers over the last century, which appears to indicate that the phenomenon of dairy farmers leaving farming behind is nothing new, (even though the trend is clearly gathering momentum of late). Nonethless, the feasibility of converting to arable cropping further underscores the fact that complaints along the lines of “veganism is threatening farmers with unemployment” are largely hyperbole.

Animal agriculture: a herd of cattle
At the same time, the National Trust has announced its intention to plant 20,000,000 trees on 44,000 acres of its land, including at least half of its current grazing land, meaning that beef cattle herds and other grazing herds on affected farmland will be forced to downscale. This represents a positive step forward for the organisation as it continues to take environmental and conservation issues more seriously. As we know, from a conservation and climate perspective, tree-planting is something that needs to be given far more priority, and, as is well known, animal agriculture is one of the greatest causes of deforestation worldwide. Hopefully, the National Trust will also take another very important step and ban fox hunting on its land, a reform for which even its own members voted.* (Learn more here and here.)  In short, these revelations are further signs of the eventual obsolescence of animal agriculture and of increased awareness of the importance of environmental protection and conservation of natural habitats. * Even though the National Trust does not nominally allow fox hunting on its land (the aforementioned being an illegal activity), it does allow trail hunting, which is well known to be a mere pretext for the commission of the crime of fox hunting.