6 August 1999

Calls for sheep glut aid

THE government is being asked for emergency aid to prevent an animal welfare and environmental catastrophe in the hills this autumn when there will be no market for up to a million sheep.

But any compensation deal may be conditional on a permanent reduction in the national breeding flock.

Cull ewe prices are already down to £3 or less, with only light marketings. Come the autumn, the expectation is that there will be no market at all for hill ewes at the end of their breeding life and that, unless something is done, there will be random, on-farm slaughter.

"The whole sheep industry is in crisis with lamb prices down about a third on last year. But it is the lack of any market for cull ewes which is causing most concern," said Scottish NFU president Jim Walker.

"We have asked the government to consider a national scheme to finance the disposal of draft ewes in an orderly and humane way. It could be that compensation is linked to the surrender of sheep quota," said Mr Walker, who had a long discussion on the issue recently with NFU president Ben Gill.

"We are all very concerned, not just about the financial ruin that is staring sheep farmers in the face. Last year, thousands of cull ewes were slaughtered on farms in Shetland because there was no market for them. We can see the same thing happening throughout much of mainland Scotland this year unless something is done," said Mr Walker.

His concern was shared by NSA secretary John Thorley. "If the government has any concern for the future of the sheep industry in Britain, it must act to take out these ewes for which there is no market. It will help bring supply and demand into balance," he said.

Scottish farm minister Ross Finnie has called an industry summit to discuss the plight of the sheep sector. It will be held in Edinburgh on Aug 16.

The Farmers Union of Wales, too, has warned the National Assembly of a potential welfare disaster unless a cull ewe disposal scheme is established.

"People are talking about digging holes and shooting ewes, which is not the image the industry should project," said Derek Morgan, chairman of the FUWs hill farming committee. The FUW, however, rejects the idea that compensated farmers should forfeit quota. &#42

NVZ controls begin

ENFORCEMENT of controls restricting nitrogen use in the 68 Nitrate Vulnerable Zones across England and Wales began this week with a series of farm inspections by the Environment Agency.

The Action Programme for Nitrate Vulnerable Zones Regulation 1998 was introduced last December. It was aimed at cutting nitrate levels in drinking water by limiting the use of nitrogen fertilisers and organic manures within NVZs.

The regulations lay down rules for the 8000 farms, covering 600,000ha (1.5m acres) in NVZs.

The rules also stipulated that fertiliser and manure use should be recorded from Dec 1998 and the agencys farm visits will check relevant records and compliance.

The Environment Agencys NVZ manager, Robin Chatterjee, said: "This is an important stage in the plan, which can benefit both the environment and farmers. Minimising nitrogen losses from land should protect water quality and allow farmers to reduce expenditure by optimising inputs."

But NFUs East Anglia regional spokesman Mike Marshall Hollingsworth said the agencys view that farmers would reduce expenditure was subjective. "Not all farmers will save money by reducing inputs. Crop yields may be affected and income lost." &#42

OPsufferers fury at letter

A LETTER from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the Health and Safety Executive sent to all registered sheep farmers this week has angered those campaigning for a ban on organophosphates.

The letter emphasises part of the recent Institute of Occupational Medicine report on OP dips which said operators health could be damaged by exposure to OP dip concentrate, and that dippers had not been wearing the recommended gloves.

OP sufferer Jim Candy, who farms in Cornwall, said: "The gloves recommended at the time were later shown to be useless against dip concentrate, and the recommendations on protective clothing seem to be changing all the time."

The authorities should be banning OPs, not encouraging people to use them, he insisted. &#42

School milk plea

THE dairy industry has united to urge the EU Commission to retain the existing level of funding for the EU school milk scheme.

Individual dairies, Milk Marque, MAFF, the Dairy Industry Federation, NFU, Associated British Nutrition and packaging firm Tetra Pak have all thrown their weight behind the campaign group Milk For Schools.

The cross-industry group told officials in Brussels that the commissions plan to cut funding would have a massive impact on the provision of school milk. &#42