7 June 1996

SMALL MEN NEEDNT FEAR HIGH TECH…

NEW livestock breeding technology will not put small farmers at a financial disadvantage, according to early research findings.

Economists at Reading Universitys agriculture department are midway through a project to assess the economic impact of new technology including multiple embryo transfer, sexed embryos and semen and improved oestrus detection.

The work, funded by MAFF, Genus, and the Meat and Livestock Commission, has been running for three years and will continue for another 18 months.

But Reading economists Tahir Rehman and Chris Yates believe the evidence so far suggests the technologies will not put smaller farmers at a financial disadvantage.

They have created computer models for different farm enterprises, locations, and size. Details on farm management and the new breeding technology are fed in, along with any associated costs including changes in feed use or increased birth weights.

Details of how much the new breeding concepts might cost a farmer are not used. "What we want to establish is what returns a farmer might get from using any of the new techniques," said Dr Rehman. Breeding companies then have information to show them where to pitch their prices.

The technologys impact over a 15-year period is assessed by the computer and an economic profile produced.

"We use 15 years because if you are looking at cattle breeding then you have to remember that heifers wont calve for two years and only part of the herd will be replaced annually.

"So 15 years is used because that is the period considered by scientists to be long enough for all the genetic effects to have worked right through the herd," Dr Rehman said.

When the research is completed it will provide national and regional pictures of the economic impact of different technologies. The likely uptake by farmers will also be assessed.

A report by the Banner committee, set up by MAFF to consider the ethical implications of livestock breeding technologies, stressed that the Reading work "is based on what can only be assumptions about the likely take-up of the new techniques".

"Nonetheless this project, and future monitoring of the situation, will provide the sort of information which is vital if government is to take steps to ensure that smaller and less favoured farms are not seriously disadvantaged by these developments," said Dr Rehman.n