The “horrendous” impact of Covid-19 and US tariffs sent Scottish food and drink exports plummeting by £1.1bn in the first nine months of the year, the industry has said.
New figures from the Scottish Government show exports were down 22.4% in the first three-quarters of 2020.
All types of food exports contracted except animal feed and live animals.
As well as global coronavirus restrictions, tariffs on Scotch whisky exports to the US have hurt the sector, and industry leaders warn disruption caused by Brexit is on the horizon.
James Withers, chief executive of trade body Scotland Food and Drink, said:
“We have never seen a drop in export sales like this before and it emphasises how horrendous 2020 has been for food and drink exporters in Scotland.
“We now find ourselves mere days away from more potential disruption and losses as the looming threat of Brexit nears.
“It is critical that the Prime Minister and his negotiating team understand just how fragile our food and drink sector is right now.
“I genuinely fear that without a commitment to support the sector and act immediately, the changes on January 1 will tip some businesses over the edge.
“If negotiations with the EU collapse into a no-deal, tariffs will not only wipe out most of our beef and lamb exports, but they will hamper the viability of our biggest export, Scottish seafood, normally worth over £800m in sales to the EU.
“Even if there is a last-minute deal with the EU, we cannot repeat strongly enough that food businesses, hauliers and border inspection systems are not ready for January 1.”
Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said: “The latest statistics show just how damaging the global coronavirus pandemic has been for overseas sales from Scottish food and drink exporters.
“But it’s not the only issue that the sector has had to deal with, Brexit has caused huge uncertainty and is posing a further risk of significant harm to our food and drink businesses.
“With just days to go until the end of the transition period, we are still no clearer on what the landscape for exporters will look like.
“On top of this, the US-imposed tariffs have meant that for over a year, Scottish products, including single malt Scotch whisky, cheese and cashmere clothing, have faced tariffs of 25% as part of a long-running dispute between the US and the EU over subsidies for aircraft manufacturers.
“These iconic Scottish products have no connection to the aerospace industry, but are suffering as a result.
“The damaging impact of these tariffs is being felt across Scotland and is increasing.”