6 September 1996

Cull backlog hits autumn dispersals

By Tim Relf

PROSPECTS for autumn dairy dispersals are not good.

With September and October busy months in the sales calendar, more stock will hit the market. But with a backlog of cull cows stuck on farms throughout the country, demand is likely to be lacklustre.

Many farmers have neither the money, nor the fodder, to take on extra animals.

Auctioneers reckon some stock could be worth £300 a head less than a year ago. And as in the spring – when sales were postponed after BSE hit the headlines – older animals will be hardest hit.

The cull cow situation is stagnant and getting worse every day, says auctioneer David Giles of Halls in Shropshire.

People that can be flexible may consider postponing dispersals, he suggests. "But for many – such as those surrendering a tenancy – this will not be possible."

Youngstock will continue to sell well, he believes, citing a recent dispersal at which calves up to eight-months-old reached £500. This made them worth more than a lot of the cows.

Barry Colton of Kittows in Hallworthy, Cornwall agrees the cull is the key. "If this backlog were reduced, people would be buying again.

"Lower prices would then give the farmers the opportunity to get fresh faces in their herds. Average ages could be lowered by replacing fifth and sixth calvers with first and second calvers."

Heifers that would have made £1000 last autumn are now worth £800, he suggests.

Most auctioneers also point to the influence of firm quota prices in dictating the autumn sales strategy. "Taken together, the quota and the cows are probably worth more than they were this time last year," says Mr Colton.

Similarly Derek Biss of Greenslade Hunt in Taunton, Somerset, says that quota prices are encouraging farmers to go ahead with dispersals.

Fear of losing the retirement relief currently available is also a vital factor, he says. Were there to be a change of government, this benefit could be lost. And for many it represents a "tremendous golden handshake", he says.