18 January 2002

Vaccine means no organic certificate

A stand off between farmer

Ian Duncan Millar and those

setting the standards for

organic production has caused

a setback at one of his

units. Allan Wright reports

DEFENDING the use of vaccines in his organic flock has, says Ian Duncan Millar, led to one of his organic farms being refused an organic certificate for last years lamb crop.

Mr Duncan Millar claims that vaccines stimulate the natural defence system against disease challenge; those running the organic movement in Scotland demand evidence of disease before remedial action is permitted.

At the start of 1999 the switch to organic production was started on the farms of Auchnafree and Wester Tullich, both of which are managed by Mr Duncan Millar. Two years of grant-aided conversion were completed and, during that time, a flock health programme was drawn up with the vet.

Everything appeared to be going well and Auchnafree won its land and produce certificates without trouble. Not so at Wester Tullich.

"There were three areas where I had failed to comply with organic standards. The first was that I had stitched clover seed into the pasture, a fine, organic-type thing to be doing, without first getting a derogation to use non-organic seed.

Concentrate feed

"Then I made a mistake with concentrate feed which I thought was organic but was, in fact, approved, non-organic. That meant that the twin-bearing ewes were getting more than the percentage of non-organic feed allowed in the diet. That was my mistake and I hold up my hand to it," says Mr Duncan Millar.

"However, I gained the impression that those two mistakes might have been accommodated if I had been prepared to alter my stance on the use of vaccines. I was not prepared to do that and was refused an organic certificate for the 2001 lamb crop off Wester Tullich.

"It means that the expensive organic grazing and rape that I rented to finish the lambs has been an extra cost without any premium for the end product."

As a leader of the farm assurance movement in Scotland and the high welfare standards imposed, Mr Duncan Millar cannot understand the intransigence of the organic movement on animal disease.

"They want to see animals die before they will sanction treatment or prevention. The irony is that I have proof that control of pneumonia and lamb dysentery is needed at Wester Tullich. But that proof, known to the vet, was there before I began the conversion to organic production. To tell me that I have to stop vaccinating and wait for disease to strike is unacceptable and goes directly against sensible stock management and animal welfare," he says.

Criticism of the organic movement is not confined to its approach to animal health. The premium for organic lamb is about 20p/kg deadweight or 8% (half that if compared with conventional lamb for export) and should, claims Mr Duncan Millar, be much higher.

Politics in the way

"There was a chance to match supply and demand throughout the season and market in an organised, co-operative fashion. But organic farm politics got in the way and the potential has been squandered. There is a steady, year-round demand but we are already into the same supply peaks and troughs of other sectors and those producing organic potatoes and milk tell the same story."

But he plans to stick with organic farming and to continue working towards more effective, collective marketing and what he describes as a more enlightened approach by the movement towards animal health and welfare.

Mr Duncan Millars own market forecasting has been proved right, with the decision in the late autumn to suspend Tirinie lamb sales paying off handsomely as prices rose.

Lambs put on to stubble in October, when the price collapsed to £1.40/kg deadweight, are now making £2.40. Cast ewes from all three farms also sold well at £20 for Blackfaces from the hill units and £29 for crosses from Tirinie.

There is confidence for the future. "Beef and pork prices are steady and look set to stay that way so there will be no madness in the sheep market. But the welfare scheme cleared out the light lambs and current prices will mean no carry-over of hoggets.

"There are also signs that those wiped out by foot-and-mouth disease are going to restock with sheep as well as cattle. That will mean more ewe lambs being retained for breeding and a firm market prevailing throughout the season," he says.

The Tirinie beef finishing enterprise has been revamped to make best use of 110t of barley that failed seed and malting standards and is now worth just £62/t.

"I took advice from the Scottish Agricultural College, which showed that increasing the percentage of barley in the ration would cut a month off the finishing period and yield an extra margin of £28 a head. That seemed like good business and it also eliminates feeding cattle in high summer, which is also attractive."

The five breeding heifers that have gone to Wester Tullich to start a self-contained beef herd are getting a modest ration of concentrates but no roughage. "We rested 10 acres during the summer and autumn to provide winter roughage. The aim was to avoid having to buy in hay or silage for them and, so far, it seems to be working."

The next big diary dates are Jan 29 when the Tirinie ewes will be scanned and four weeks later when the process is repeated at Wester Tullich. &#42

A clash with the organic powers that be means the 2001 lamb crop from Ian Duncan Millars Wester Tulloch flock was refused an organic certificate.

&#8226 Tirinie, a 129ha (318-acre) mixed arable and stock farm in north-west Perthshire, farmed by Ian Duncan Millar. It has been in the family for 40 years.

&#8226 The land is a mix of sandy loam over gravel near the rivers Tay and Lyon, and medium loam away from rivers.

&#8226 Main arable crop is spring barley for malting and seed contracts. Turnips are grown for wintering sheep.

&#8226 Sheep flock of 300 Mule and Texel cross ewes. Lambs are finished and sold through a local lamb marketing group.

&#8226 Suckled calves bought privately from one farm. Males finished intensively, best heifer calves kept for breeding and sold with calves at foot.

&#8226 Staff of one, for tractor work.