By Simon Wragg

AUCTIONEERS meet tomorrow (Friday) to decide how to administer the slaughter premium scheme to ensure finishers of beef cattle receive payments of £17 a head.

The scheme, aimed at compensating farmers for low prices, will pay the producer who kept an animal for the two months prior to slaughter.

Those selling direct to abattoirs can guarantee they will receive subsidy to which they are entitled.

However, liveweight sellers risk stock being bought out of fat rings for further feeding, potentially depriving the original vendor of the payment.

“That must be sorted,” says Ludlow-based auctioneer John Uffold. Although the number of cattle pulled out of fat rings is small (industry figures put it at 5-15% in individual markets) vendors interests must be protected.

“We have to presume that all animals going through the fat ring will be slaughtered within a month of sale. It will have to be put in the conditions of sale,” he adds.

Other auctioneers agree. “Its a logical conclusion,” comments Hexham-based auctioneer Robert Whitelock.

He, like most auctioneers, is waiting to hear the conclusion of talks between MAFF, which administers the scheme, and auctioneers representatives.

At tomorrows Livestock Auctioneers Associations annual general meeting, Northants, officials are expected to spell out such arrangements for markets.

The LAA will suggest amendments to the conditions of sale which forms a binding contract.

If an animal is not slaughtered with a month of sale as declared, buyers will be forced to reimburse the original vendor for the full subsidy.

However, those specialist looking to take fat cattle to higher weights and who declare their intention at the ringside will only be expected to compensate the original vendor for a proportion of the subsidy.

“In effect they will buy the rights to the subsidy. While Im not setting a benchmark, £15 a head would be realistic,” suggests LAA secretary John Martin.

But the system could be open to abuse if fatteners decide not to compensate vendors.

“But theyll only do it once,” warns Mr Uffold, adding that any under-handed activity will see offending buyers excluded from the ringside.

Markets are also expected to be stricter on excluding under-finished stock as entries for the fat ring; a particularly problem at the end of grazing when cattle are brought in for winter.

“Auctioneers will effectively police the system,” adds Mr Martin.

Despite tomorrows meeting, the LAA has been criticised by producer representatives for not addressing the issue earlier.

But the association says it received no paperwork from MAFF to progress its decisions.