A call for a welfare disposal scheme for sheep, funded by the Government, is among the key priorities outlined by NFU Scotland leader, Jim McLaren.

Moving sheep from the hills is the number one priority, he stated, saying serious welfare and cash-flow problems will emerge within a matter of days.

“There are 100,000s of lambs without a market and, with no export route, the problem is particularly with the lighter lambs,” said Mr McLaren.

A welfare disposal scheme would, he said, be accessed by producers on a voluntary basis and funded by government. It would also help get vital movement going again within the sheep production chain.

He said agreement to such a scheme was “extremely realistic” and it was a case of “when not if” it would be introduced.

Estimating around 500,000 lambs could be eligible, he said the total cost to government could be around £5M, which he described as a “drop in the ocean” compared with the overall costs of compensating the industry for losses as a result of the foot and mouth disease outbreak.

This money should come from central treasury coffers but he pointed out there was Scottish Executive cash available too.

A further proposal from Mr McLaren was a feed scheme for producers who were not eligible for other schemes and were not able to move animals.

He said this support could come in the form of the provision of feed by government or cash to assist with the purchase of feed.

“We are also looking at schemes to get hard cash onto farms,” Mr McLaren said. Bringing forward Less Favoured Areas Support Schemes and SFP payments is being talked about and would be a start, he observed, but farmers are entitled to these payments anyway and what is urgently needed is additional cash.

Regarding the lifting of Scottish domestic movement and export restrictions, NFUS is stressing that, given it is only 48 hours since foot and mouth re-emerged, the over-riding emphasis at the moment is on disease control.  Therefore, the immediate priority is protecting disease-free areas from possible routes of infection, as far as possible.

NFUS, Mr McLaren emphasised, supports the division of GB into separate areas, defined by disease risk. Scotland could be ‘classified’ as one area and  areas of England and Wales could make the same moves.