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Farming Facts And Information
Highlands & Islands

Caithness & Sutherland Information

The Highlands and Islands
September 2002

The land mass of H&I comprises 3m hectares, making up 48% of Scotland, however 90% of H&I is rough grazing land, compared with 67% of Scotland. Grassland of some kind makes up 79% of H&I (64% of Scotland).

There are 23,000 holdings in H&I (45% of those in Scotland) with an average size of 130 hectares, but a much larger proportion of the holdings are less than 20 hectares and many fewer over 50 hectares compared with Scotland as a whole. This size issue is emphasised if one looks at the situation in terms of ‘ESU’s’1 – the EU unit of size, where it is reckoned that one man, full time, needs 8-40 ESU’s. H&I have two thirds of their holdings less than this critical 8 ESU and only 10% over the 40 ESU mark.

H&I are much more dependent upon sheep, with them making up 71% of livestock (60% for Scotland). The only area of H&I where cattle dominate is Orkney.

There are some 3m sheep in H&I, making up one third of all Scottish Sheep. There are about 1.3m breeding ewes and with a lambing rate below the rest of Scotland, we calculate, some 1.225m lambs born.  The density of sheep is significantly lower than for Scotland as a whole.

H&I have only 380,000 cattle (18% of Scotland) with stocking levels about one third of Scotland overall. Only some 33,000 (8%) are Dairy Cattle and we calculate there are some 54,000 beef animals produced each year.

Only a glance at a map will reveal how the geography and topography of the H&I dictates very much the nature of its agriculture. The whole area is devoid of lush pasture, especially compared with the East of Scotland (with the major exception of the Orkneys). Quite apart from the many Islands, the different parts of the mainland are severely constrained by the communications with major centres and with the rest of UK.  Thus many areas such as Argyll and Lochaber are a long journey away from many facilities.

Livestock production dominates (three-quarters) agricultural output for the region. Beef cattle make up virtually half of the total agricultural output while lambs make up just over one quarter. Traditionally, however, the majority of this livestock has been sold to more lowland areas of Scotland (and beyond) as store stock. Consequently, slaughter and any further processing has often taken place outside the region (especially in Eastern Scotland).

There are facilities within the Region. Within the next month or so there will be five major processors within the Highlands and Islands area – Orkney and Stornoway on the Islands and Dornoch, Dingwall and Grantown-on-Spey on the mainland (with Elgin and Wick serving local parts of the region). Small scale plants, of varying sophistication, also exist on some islands and in some rural areas.

The above is taken from 
Highland & Islands Enterprise and Highland Council Report on
Red Meat Processing & Marketing in the Highlands & Islands - May 2002 and printed Sep 2002
The full report in pdf is available on the Highland Council Web site
Click Here to go to the full report