19 May 2000

End of OTMS

weight limit will

help stock men

By Philip Clarke

BEEF and dairy producers will soon get full payment for their cull animals under the over 30-month scheme, after Brussels decision to waive the 560kg weight limit.

The move has been welcomed by UK meat and farming representatives, who see it as an essential way of getting some much-needed cash into livestock producers pockets.

"It is a long-term positive measure that means every one who has heavy cows will now get full compensation," said National Beef Association chief executive, Robert Forster. "No longer do we have a situation where a man with 700kg animals will be giving away one in every five for free."

Ending the weight restriction is especially good news for tenants, adds George Dunn of the Tenant Farmers Association. "Its imposition drastically reduced stock values at the stroke of a pen," he said. "It was particularly unfair to tenants whose main assets are their breeding stock. They have been badly hit by the current crisis, as they do not have the value of land and buildings when times get hard."

The change, which was accepted unanimously in Brussels late last week (on the understanding that the UK meets all the additional cost), will come into effect from June 5. "It is worth £20m a year in payments to farmers and will be of particular benefit to those running suckler herds," said agriculture minister, Nick Brown.

At todays exchange rates, OTMS compensation pays just 46.35p/kg lw for cows and 52.15p/kg for steers and bulls. At the 560kg limit, this equates to a maximum £260 and £292 an animal, respectively.

Over 50% of suckler cows and 85% of breeding bulls fall foul of this weight limit. Once it has gone, a 650kg cow will get £42 extra.

"We hope this will encourage breeders to pick out more of their older cows and replace them with heifers," said Mr Forster. "Their reluctance to give up older cows for an inexcusably low return means that at least 25% of the beef breeding herd is 10 years old or over, compared with a more normal 18-19%."

Replacing them with stock born after Sept 1998, which are fully traceable, could assist in bringing an end to the OTMS altogether, he argued.

Meanwhile auctioneers this week reported a number of cancellations from farmers who were intending to put animals into the scheme. "The phones have been red hot," said David Lock of Frome market, Somerset. "We are expecting a quiet few weeks. But come June 5 there will be a number more to go forward."

OTMS HISTORY

Mar 1996 Ban on consumption of meat from cattle over 30 months.

May 1996 First animals slaughtered under OTMS scheme.

Autumn 1996 Abattoirs struggle to clear backlog of cattle.

Aug 1997 Jack Cunningham introduces 560kg weight limit and lowers compensation. rate to k0.8 per kg for cows and k0.9 per kg for other animals.

Dec 1999 Number of OTMS abattoirs reduced by Intervention Board.

Mar 2000 Prime Minister, Tony Blair, announces intention to remove weight limit.

May 2000 Brussels agrees to lift the weight limit from June 5.