Orkney beef shortage expected due to wet weather

Published 18th Jun 2015
Updated 18 th Jun 2015


ORKNEY  beef, famed as among best in the world, will “run out” this summer following one of the island’s wettest springs on record.

The meat, praised by the likes of Tom Kitchen and Jamie Oliver, sells for up to £130 per kilo.

But bad weather - the worst in 150 years - has left fields swamped, meaning that the prize cows have had to be kept indoors for much of Spring.

As a result, many of the animals have been sold months ahead of schedule as farmers cannot afford to keep them inside.

The famed beef, which is the choice of many mainland butchers, is now fast running out, and will be tough to find over the summer.

Fans of the meat face a hike in prices and a scrabble to find the last remaining cuts as butchers begin to run out of stock.

The manager of Orkney mart, which is in charge of selling cattle on the island, confirmed that farmers were in a “dire predicament” because the fields were “lying in water”.

This particular beef has been used by top Edinburgh chef Tom Kitchin, who has featured the Orkney cuts on his menu.

It has even been described by Jamie Oliver as “the best meal” he had ever had in Scotland, after he visited Orkney and was served a plate of their ribeye steak.

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Nigel Ovens, who runs the Mearns T McCaskie butchers at Wemyss Bay in Inverclyde, is expecting to lose thousands of pounds as a result of the bad weather nearly 300 miles away.

“95% of all our beef comes from one farm up on Orkney, and usually we have a steady supply throughout the year,” he said.

“However, the weather has been so bad that we are fast running out of Orkney beef and it will be November before supplies get back to normal.

“In the meantime, we are going to have to look to other places to source our meat - and it’s not easy to find somewhere where the quality is this high.

“Since all our beef comes from the one farm, and we advertise that quite heavily, we are now going to have to spend thousands of pounds changing all our leaflets, shop signs and online information.

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“It’s put a lot of pressure on us but there is nothing we can do about it - we’re at the mercy of the weather.”

He sources his meat from one of the island’s biggest producers - the Harcus family who run a 1060 acre farm.

The family recently had to sell 40 of their cows ahead of schedule, because it was proving too expensive to keep them sufficiently fed indoors.

Farmer William Harcus said: “Mother nature has ruined our prospects for this year and we are facing a huge financial loss.

“Over the whole of the island around 70% of beef cattle are still inside. The rain has hardly stopped since November last year and we have never seen the ground so wet - they say the May rainfall was a 150-year-old record.

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"We face a huge challenge in getting back to some kind of normality. And there is a knock-on effect with the number of cows that won't be in-calf next year."

The 40 young cows, which can sell for up to £1,200, were sold at a knock-down price of between £800-900 due to their smaller size - resulting in the family losing up to £16,000.

Orkney mart manager Malcolm Scott said: “We are in a dire predicament. The fields are lying in water and the farmers are running out of dry feed - that is why we had to put a sale on earlier this month.

“In January it rained almost every day, it’s as if the weather conspired against farmers. We’re hoping the weather might pick up but we are completely at its mercy.”


Digital Editor for The Scotsman Publications. Studying Masters in Mobile Web Development at the University of the West of Scotland
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