12 March 1999

Cattle health cash for Highlands and Islands

A GOVERNMENT grant of £370,000 to support a cattle health initiative in the Highlands and Islands was announced by Lord Sewel in Dunblane.

He said it was hoped that, within five years, 2500 producers representing 60% of cattle in the area would have been recruited to the scheme. The minister claimed it would enhance incomes by about £4m through reduced disease and higher market prices.

Lord Sewel also announced that 1998 arrangements would be repeated, allowing unclaimed beef special premium allocation in England to be transferred to Scotland. "That will avoid the need for any scale-back and should be worth about £5m to Scottish farmers," he said.

And the minister also announced early legislation to allow EU grants to be paid to farmers for the conversion of redundant farm buildings for residential letting purposes and for value added specialised products like mushrooms and vegetables.

But new union president Jim Walker later described the announcements as sweeties and not the real way forward for the industry.

"It is fine for government ministers to hand out sweeties at conferences like this but it is not the real way forward. We want a decent market return for the effort we put in without having to rely on support. It may not happen in my time but that has to be the vision for the future and our goal within the union," said Mr Walker.

who indicated that he would not wish to remain as president for more than two or three years.

"The pressures of the job are such that your stamina and the flow of new ideas would be severely tested if you tried to stay in office for too long," he said.