16 March 2001

Movement curb prompts rethink over stock plans

The long shadow of

foot-and-mouth disease hangs

over the whole country

and, as Allan Wright

reports, the effects have

been felt at Tirinie

IAN Duncan Millar farms about 150 miles from the cluster of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases in Scotland, but disease precautions are having a big impact on his business.

Finished hoggs from Tirinie were on their way to the slaughterhouse when the ban on livestock movements was imposed. The lorry was turned around at Stirling and nothing had been sold from the farm between then and last week, when emergency arrangements allowing direct transport from farm to abattoir were introduced.

"Six heifers were sold last week and about 180 finished hoggs are due to be marketed this week under the special arrangements. It is a huge relief to get some stock sold again because the feed bills have been rising at an alarming rate," says Mr Duncan Millar.

But the emergency arrangements bring extra costs. "One benefit of marketing through the Highland Glen lamb group was that lorries were filled up and the cost was shared. Now I will have to pay the £180 charge from here to Bathgate for however many sheep are fit to sell. Thankfully, after spending all last weekend weighing sheep, it has turned out to be a decent load."

Tirinie has been home to 100 hoggs that were finishing on rape and 350 lighter ones that were on turnips. "The rape is finished, the turnips are almost exhausted and the planned marketing strategy has gone out the window.

"The real frustration for me is that the margin from these sheep would have been the Tirinie profit for the year and now that is gone, just another consequential loss of foot-and-mouth disease."

The dilemma for Mr Duncan Millar – and many other farmers – is what to do with the lighter finished hoggs that would normally have gone for export. To turn them back out on to the hill means the animals would begin a second store period; to sell on the home market will be difficult.

"I think the industry will have to do some persuasion at the highest level, and that may mean government ministers, to find a willingness among supermarkets to market carcasses of between 12kg and 15kg in preference to imported product from New Zealand.

"The attraction for them will have to be price. But I think that is the only sensible course for producers. To retain these animals means they will be hanging over the market next autumn and the same would happen if there were a private storage scheme.

"I think I understand why sheep prices are lower than before foot-and-mouth disease struck. At that time we were getting almost £45 for a finished hogg, but only because 40% of sales were going for export. That trade is no more and it stands to reason that prices will be under pressure.

Having managed to find 180 last weekend that were ready to market, Mr Duncan Millar has now clarified his own position. "The remaining Blackface lambs have been split into three groups – about 100 that will make 15kg or more off the last of the turnips with hand feeding twice a day, the smallest 100 that have gone to a grass field to await the cuckoo and warmer weather, and 40 that will have been housed for finishing on concentrates."

His understanding of lower sheep prices does not extend to the drop suffered by cattle. "All the supermarket talk is of extra demand and, apart from profiteering, I can see no reason for cattle prices to be lower than a month ago."

While waiting to sell the first stock for a month, the concentrate feed bill at Tirinie more than doubled. "A tonne of home-mix was lasting a week, now it barely does three days. But I am using home-grown barley and we will have enough silage and straw to see us through."

Lambing is due to start on Apr 12 and Mr Duncan Millar reports the ewes in good condition. He is also happy with the flock he manages at Wester Tullich.

Ploughing is proceeding apace at Tirinie, getting ready for the spring barley, which this year will see three varieties grown – 20ha (50 acres) of Decanter on a seed contract and the remaining 40ha split between home-saved Chariot and bought-in Chalice. &#42

FARM FACTS

&#8226 Tirinie, a 129ha (318-acre) mixed arable and stock farm in north-west Perthshire, farmed by Ian Duncan Millar. It has been in the family for 40 years.

&#8226 The land is a mix of sandy loam over gravel near the rivers Tay and Lyon, and medium loam away from rivers.

&#8226 Main arable crop is spring barley for malting and seed contracts. Turnips grown for wintering sheep.

&#8226 Sheep flock of 300 Mule and Texel cross ewes. Lambs are finished and sold through a local lamb marketing group.

&#8226 Suckled calves bought privately from one farm. Males finished intensively, best heifer calves kept for breeding and sold with calves at foot.

&#8226 Farm staff of one, for tractor work.