13 August 1999

No cull scheme this autumn for surplus sheep

By Allan Wright

THE government has ruled out a cull ewe scheme this autumn as a means of disposing of up to 1m sheep for which there is no market.

After three hours of talks with farming and meat trade leaders in Edinburgh on Tuesday, Scottish farm minister Ross Finnie said such support was not feasible under EU legislation.

Disappointing news

Meat and Livestock Commission chairman Don Curry was at the Edinburgh talks and he, too, had disappointing news for sheep farmers – it would not be possible to suspend the MLC levy on ewes without a change in legislation.

"We do not have the power to suspend levies. But we are talking to sheep industry leaders to see if we should suggest such action to government," he said.

Not all negative

However, the talks were not all negative. "A major promotion in France of British lamb, especially branded product from Scotland and Wales, is planned in the next few weeks and Mr Finnie did not rule out further financial support," said Scottish NFU president Jim Walker.

Earlier in the day the minister announced a £150,000 grant to help the Scotch Quality Beef and Lamb Association promote meat in Europe.

Mr Finnie has also promised to seek EU approval for a private storage scheme for lamb. In addition, the industry is hoping for some relaxation on the rules governing exports of ewe carcasses.

The possibility of extra dedicated ewe cutting plants in France and introducing others in Greece and Italy was also discussed.

And Mr Finnie said he would investigate claims that there was a demand for 50,000 lambs a week from the Arab Emirates, although he was advised of huge amounts of red tape and fears about payments.

Despondency stays

However, Mr Walker said general despondency remained, fuelled by a 40% drop on the year in breeding ewe lamb prices at the first sales and cull ewes being sold by the pen rather than individually.

"We need a clear signal from the government about what it wants from our hills and uplands. If it wants a New Zealand ranching system with one man looking after 10,000 ewes then we can do that.

Ministers to say

"But it has to be government ministers who tell farmers, rural communities and the general public that such a system is the way forward with all its implications for rural population, animal welfare, and the environment," he insisted.