24 August 2001

DEFRA urged to avert potential forage crisis

By Hannah Velten

A NATIONAL emergency is underway as autumn approaches with many breeding cattle and sheep at risk from slaughter via the Livestock Welfare Disposal Scheme unless spare forage can be allocated to hungry stock.

The National Beef Association is urging DEFRA to implement a strategy to move stock to forage or vice-versa.

NBA chief executive Robert Forster fears that by Nov 1 there could be up to 1m cattle in the wrong place for over-wintering on units with insufficient feed and housing. "The movement licensing system will not be able to cope with the backlog of animal movements from February, combined with normal levels of autumn movements."

The LWDS may be the only option open to producers, but this will mean Britain loosing an invaluable national resource – future breeding stock, says Mr Forster.

He urges producers who can move stock to wintering facilities to act now before the movement system is jammed by applications.

In restricted areas, over-wintering arrangements must be privately organised, he says. Those 9000 farms slaughtered out will be holding the largest forage stocks, while many Form D farms, which have experienced the harshest movement restrictions, have already used winter forage.

The NBA wants producers to work together to even out the forage imbalance and for DEFRA to be flexible with movement red tape. "Neighbouring farms could arrange private contracts for overwintering stock. Lateral, short movements between units unable to cope with stock and those signed off from F&M should be allowed in the face of a national emergency."

The National Sheep Associations priority is to maintain future breeding stock and to alleviate welfare problems. Hill breeding stock stuck in restricted areas also need to be moved from the hills because of the risk of environmental damage caused by over-grazing, says NSA commercial manager Chris Lloyd.

The organisation has also identified grazing in ex-infected areas as potential over-wintering grounds for sheep. "Grassland needs to be managed for the benefit of these farms and units could also act as stock holding centres until the government has the confidence to allow sheep movements to lowlands."

When producers are unable to pay for outside feed and housing of stock, the NBA is urging DEFRA to offer financial aid for contract wintering of breeding stock. "But when cattle cannot be moved to forage, feed needs to be moved to them and the government should pay for forage and its transport."

DEFRA needs to organise and co-ordinate a system, such as regional forage banks where straw, hay and baled silage bought from ex-infected farms could be stored, rationed and transported to desperate producers, believes Mr Forster.

Although an expensive option, the NBA believes DEFRA will be happy with the arithmetic. "Taking a breeding cow through winter will require 2t of hay, costing £70/t, when a cow goes through the LWDS it costs DEFRA £700 in compensation, slaughter, rendering and meat and bonemeal storage.

"It will reflect badly on the government if they allow forage stocks to remain trapped in certain areas, while breeding stock are being trashed in the LWDS because they cannot be fed."

DEFRA was unable to provide details of what its future strategy will be as FW went to Press. &#42


POTENTIALFORAGECRISIS


&#8226 Risk loosing breeding stock.

&#8226 Movement to ex-infected farms?

&#8226 System to distribute forage?