Farmer fury at foot and mouth situation

Scottish beef and sheep farmer Michael Jonston says farmers are being treated with contempt by Westminster politicians, who have no idea what conditions are like north of the border.

“I’m abosulutely bloody furious,” he told FWi, in response to the news that DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn had planned to allocate £8.1m in aid to Scotland, in parallel with the £12.5m announced for England, only to withdraw the money at the last minute. “Does he think we were born yesterday? It’s pathetic.”

Mr Johnston says his business is losing thousands of pounds as a result of the collapse in lamb prices.

“We’ve got lambs to sell, but we’ll never get them to export markets.” This is because of the rule that only allows exports from farms that have not had a foot and mouth susceptible animal brought onto the holding for at least 21 days. “We need to bring animals in at this time of year – tups and store cattle particularly.

“To say the export market is open is nonsense – it’s never going to happen.”

Mr Johnston says he has been offered about £1/kg less than budget for prime lambs for slaughter. “I’m trying to hold them back, but it’s stupid as there will only be a glut later.”

And he questions why the price of lamb is still £9/kg in the supermarket, when farmers are getting just £2. “Who’s making the money?”

He hopes that the light lamb welfare scheme will help a bit, though farming in Banffshire he is at the quality end of the sheep job and will not make use of that scheme. “Cast ewes are worth chuff-all too,” he says.

Even though the foot and mouth crisis is costing his business dear, he has greater sympathy for store lamb producers. “They’ve been phoning me up with heartbreaking stories, desperate to shift their stock and offering them for just pennies above the (£15/head) killing price. But I can’t take them. The sheep job is stuffed.

“Normally I would be selling lambs and storing grain at this time of year. But at the moment I am doing the opposite. At today’s prices we cannot afford to give grain to sheep – we have to sell it just to get some cash flow.”

Mr Johnston is in no doubt who is to blame. “It’s the politicians in Westminster who have not grasped the situation at all.  I reckon we should pick up Hadrians Wall and rebuild it around Westminster.” 

For more on the missing £8.1m, click here


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