17 August 2001

Low-key welcome for lamb buy-up scheme

By Isabel Davies

SHEEP industry representatives have given a muted welcome to the governments buy-up scheme for lambs, fearing it will only give limited help to cash-strapped light lamb producers.

The government has announced that the livestock welfare disposal scheme will be extended to deal with an estimated 1.3m unmarketable light lambs.

Details are yet to be announced, but it is thought lambs will be dealt with in a separate stream to other animals destined for the disposal scheme. The service should start early in September.

John Thorley, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, suggested the scheme failed to address marketing issues, by ignoring the fact that farmers had developed a legitimate market for ultra light lamb, which was now closed to them because of export restrictions.

Payments were limited to £10 a head for animals under 30kg so farmers would be forced to hang on to animals until they could get the 70p/kg liveweight available for heavier animals, he said.

"This will create a problem on farm and create a problem for the system employed to take them away from the farm," he said.

NFU president, Ben Gill, said he hoped the sheep market would be better balanced than many people expected. But he added: "I am afraid that many lighter lambs may need to enter the Livestock Welfare Disposal Scheme."

Arwyn Owen, policy director for the Farmers Union of Wales, said: "We welcome this announcement in principle, but if the price offered to farmers is as low as £10 per head, then this scheme will not address the financial plight of Welsh farmers."

Making the announcement at an NFU conference, junior DEFRA minister Lord Whitty stressed the scheme was a one-off.

He warned the sheep industry it had to adapt to a future where there was more emphasis on quality. "Sheep farming will have to change," he said.

The minister also took the chance to outline DEFRAs plans for a new livestock movement regime from September.

The government intends to re-categorise counties according to their disease status (disease free, infected or at risk) and allow licensed commercial farm-to-farm movements of pigs and cattle within all three categories of county.

Commercial farm-to-farm movements of sheep in infected or at risk counties will only be possible if animals have first been serologically tested.

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