26 February 1999

Keep cattle and sheep records soon – or else

By Allan Wright

INTRODUCTION of compulsory record keeping for both sheep and cattle farmers is being planned by government. Failure to comply would mean automatic loss of subsidy payments.

"We are working on a simple, standard form for each sector which would meet EU requirements for the various subsidies. There would be legislation to make form filling mandatory. Official herd and flock inspections would then take far less time. No records would mean no subsidy," John Graham, head of the Scottish Office department of agriculture, told a sheep conference in Perth on Monday.

Failure to keep adequate records was letting the industry down and putting the government at risk of having hefty disallowances of subsidy imposed by the EU.

"We have little or no discretion in this matter and, whatever changes we introduce, farmers will have to make the effort or face the consequences."

Mr Graham also warned that although sheepmeat was not included in Agenda 2000 reforms, there would be knock-on effects from other sectors. "Lower grain prices will make pigs and poultry even more price-competitive. A 30% reduction in beef support will have a significant impact on prices and will also put sheepmeat under pressure."

And there was the possibility that, once the current reforms were settled, the EU Commission would turn its attention to the cost of supporting the sheep sector.

Mr Graham hoped farmers would take the long-term view on tagging and accept that the facility to trace an animal to its farm of origin was a benefit rather than a burden, both in animal health and marketing terms. He reminded the audience that tagging had been an EU requirement since 1992.

Brian Simpson, chief executive of the Scotch Quality Beef and Lamb Association, said there was room for a two-tier system which would match tagging to specific, high value export consignments. A third of the Scottish lamb crop was exported with 70% of that going to France where tagging was demanded.