27 October 1995

Now is the time to plan for tighter EU stocking rules

STOCKING requirements for claiming livestock subsidies are set to tighten next year, and careful management is needed if payments are to be maximised.

Currently claims for beef special premium (BSP) and suckler cow premium (SCP) are subject to a maximum stocking rate of 2.5 livestock units/ha (1.01/acre). But this falls to 2/ha (0.81/acre) in 1996, explains Bedfordshire-based consultant Peter Sharpe. "There is a danger of good grassland managers going over the limit next year and losing out on premium payments," he says.

The risk is greatest with BSP, as grassland beef systems tend to carry more livestock units than suckler cow systems, although farms with both could be close to the threshold.

Mr Sharpe also warns that the calculation drags in more than just the number of cattle claimed for. For example, dairy cows count at a rate of 1 livestock unit for every 5050 litres of quota, while male cattle less than two years old equal 0.6 and ewes on which sheep annual premium is claimed count as 0.15.

"If the stocking rate is likely to be over the upper limit next year, action may be possible now," says Mr Sharpe. "On farms where stocking rates are going to be below the limit this year, it may be possible to bring forward some BSP claims into 1995 up to the 90 head limit at each age, so that they do not cause problems next year. Then, going into 1996, it is important to make second BSP claims before cattle are two years old and their LU count jumps from 0.6 to 1.0."

Buying heifers

Other means of reducing the LU count include buying heifers instead of male cattle, or selling some male cattle as stores with the BSP intact, receiving some of the premium value in the sale price.

"The aim must be to maximise payments over the two-year period. The next two months provide an opportunity for fine-tuning claims," says Mr Sharpe.