THE LAST of the black-and-white dairy bull calves reared at Towiemore has gone. The move tomorrow (Jan 1) away from headage support payments to the new single farm payment means that the enterprise is no longer commercially viable.

For the past few years, batches of black-and-white bull calves have been housed and fed at the farm. “We took the first subsidy payment and then sold them on,” says Colin.

The final calculation of their SFP entitlement has been received from the Scottish Executive. But, compared with the provisional calculation received in early summer, eight fewer cattle have been included. “They have knocked the numbers back without any explanation,” Colin says. “I haven’t had any answer yet. I think they are inundated with queries and complaints.”

In recent weeks, the Scottish Executive has held numerous farmer meetings across Scotland to discuss how the SFP will operate. And it would appear that the brothers will have grounds to appeal for extra entitlement from the national reserve, once it opens for applications next year.

“It seems that, from what was said at the two meetings I’ve been to, that we would be eligible to claim under the investment and development category of the national reserve,” says Colin.

In Scotland, SFP entitlement is based on the subsidy received by each farm during the historic reference period of 2000-2002.

“After that time, during 2003 and 2004, we built up beef numbers,” says Graeme. One of the chief reasons for that was the financial incentive for beef cattle offered by the Scottish Executive under its Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme (LFASS).

“In 2003/04 we made suckler cow premium claims on 25 more cows than we had kept during the SFP reference period. And we also built up with an extra 200 beef special premium claims in the years after the reference period,” says Graeme.

In early January, the Scottish Executive is due to release details on exactly how the national reserve, which will be funded by a 3% deduction from every farmer’s SFP, will work. “Then we’ll be able to see what sort of claim we can make,” Colin says.

The chance to consolidate entitlements by leasing less land had been under consideration by the brothers, but only briefly. “If we consolidated, we would then lose a fair chunk of our LFASS payment because we would have less land. It’s swings and roundabouts. At the moment, however, we will carry on with the land we have,” he says.

Certainly, there are no plans to cut sheep numbers at Towiemore. “They have done really well this year,” says Graeme. “And we should be able to work at the current prices for the sheep without subsidy. I think that the sheep market looks quite good for those making a decent job of it.”

In the past six weeks more than 200 lambs have been sold from the farm for an average of 46 a head after deductions. “They were split between the abattoir and the live ring, and prices between the two were pretty similar,” Graeme says. The deadweight price averaged 245p/kg, which, he adds, allows everyone to make a decent living.

Another 50 were due to be sold immediately after Christmas, leaving 420 of this year’s crop. They are now on turnips and will be offered creep feed from mid-January, with a view to selling them from February onwards.