15 August 1997

OTMS drop is insult to producers

By Tim Relf

SUCKLER cow farmers have united in opposition to the latest drop in over-30-month-scheme compensation.

The change, which took affect from last week, sees payment cut to 57.7p/kg, up to a maximum of £323 an animal.

"Nothing short of an insult," says South Devon cattle breeder Gus Meyer, Plympton Farm, Kingsbridge.

The Meyers have written to their MP, protesting about the "disastrous consequences" the change will have on suckler producers.

Animals from the beef breeds often weigh between 750kg and 1000kg liveweight. Before BSE hit the headlines, it wasnt uncommon for them to be worth £1000.

Another farmer planning to take up the fight with his MP is Richard Harvey. His South Devon herd at Sexton Farm, Ivybridge is his only enterprise. "My whole livelihood depends on beef," says Mr Harvey.

He would like to have seen a grading system, with beef cows worth more than "coat-hanger" dairy cows. "After all, the dairy producers main income is milk."

Will have knock-on effects

The drop in compensation will have knock-on effects throughout farm businesses, predicts Mr Harvey. After selling a cull cow – or a bull – a farmer has far less to reinvest in replacement stock.

This latest blow to suckler producers comes as the thoughts of many are turning to the big autumn and spring calf sales.

"Hopefully prices wont be any worse than last year," says Powys farmer John Gittins.

He hopes 12-month-old animals, at 350kg, will be making £450-plus when they go under the hammer next spring. "Thatll still be about £100 less than three years ago."

Those about to sell calves may have been encouraged by the recent upturn in the store trade. Auctioneers say demand has increased from farmers with plentiful supplies of grass and straw.

Some, too, have been shopping for stores, planning to "walk grain off the farm" by feeding it, rather than selling it.