By Jeremy Hunt, north-west England correspondent

PANIC forward buying of dairy cows is creating difficulties for dairy farmers trying to replace herds lost through foot-and-mouth.

The panic is fuelled by rumours of escalating prices and a shortage of in-calf heifers.

One Cumbrian farmer ordered a bunch of in-calf heifers imported from Europe for January 2002 delivery.

He was telephoned by another dealer who offered to undercut the deal by 100 a head.

He said the phone call had made him unsure who to trust.

Abraham van Dorp, head of Europon Livestock, issued a warning to all UK dairy farmers trying to source replacement stock from the Continent.

“Be very careful. There are a lot of inexperienced people setting up as importers and its bound to create problems for farmers.

“They should only deal with established sources of supply,” said Mr Van Dorp.

Europon Livestock is quoting 1000-1400 for in-calf heifers (six to eight months in-calf) for early 2002 delivery.

Tom Brooksbank, of Cirencester-based auctioneer Norton and Brooksbank, said dairy farmers should not panic about ordering replacements.

“Theres still an army of UK dairy farmers unaffected by foot-and-mouth that are waiting to sell their herds,” said Mr Brooksbank.

“The last thing we want is UK dairy farmers panic buying and ending up with poor quality imports brought in from eastern Europe.

“We can link buyers and sellers in the UK and with luck we might even see the first on-farm dispersals under way again by the end of the year.”

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