Study predicts Brexit could halve Scotland’s sheep flock

Scotland’s Rural College researchers found the number of sheep could fall by 56% and beef cows by 28% by 2022.

The study shows sheep farmers are particularly at risk (David Cheskin/PA)
The study shows sheep farmers are particularly at risk (David Cheskin/PA)

Laura Paterson

Sheep numbers in Scotland could fall by more than half and beef cows by more than a quarter due to Brexit, a new study suggests.

Researchers at Scotland’s Rural College have analysed the potential economic impact of three possible post-Brexit trade scenarios.

The first is a free trade agreement with the EU where both the UK and EU retain tariff and quota free access to each other’s markets and the UK maintains EU tariffs to the rest of the world.

The other options analysed were default World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariff regimes with most favoured nation tariffs on imports and exports or unilateral trade liberalisation where there no tariffs on imports but WTO tariffs on exports.

The report predicts prices would remain relatively unchanged under the free trade agreement but would change dramatically under the other two scenarios.

Price changes modelled on differing Brexit trade agreements (SRC/PA)Beef and dairy are prices predicted to rise 23% and 31% higher between 2015 and 2022 under the second option than if that status quo was maintained, while sheep prices are predicted to drop by 29%.

Unilateral trade liberalisation emerges as the most damaging option, hitting prices on all types of farms, with beef down 45%, sheep 27%, milk 8%, barley 5% and wheat 3%.

Get the latest news from the Farming Independent team 3 times a week.

The report states: “The model predicts that the national beef herd could shrink by up to 28% and the sheep flock by 56% depending on the trade and policy scenario.”

The report predicts if direct support payments are removed specialist 89% of sheep farms are expected to make losses in 2022 along with two-thirds of specialist beef producers.

Steven Thomson, the college’s senior agricultural economist said: “Brexit is an extremely complicated process, particularly when it comes to agriculture due to the EU’s protection for the sector.

“Our results highlight the potential threats, and opportunities, to the profitability of different Scottish farming sectors under possible post-Brexit trade and policy scenarios.

“The findings reiterate how vulnerable hill farming systems are to trade deals and policy choices, stressing the need to take the disadvantaged areas into account during the Brexit process.”

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “This study confirms once again what the Scottish Government has been saying all along, that the interests of farmers are best served by remaining within the EU.

“In all scenarios, failure to replicate the current trade arrangements with the EU will have a detrimental impact on farmers, with our sheep sector under particular threat.”

PA Media

For Stories Like This and More
Download the Free Farming Independent App