2001 could see quota reached

12 October 2001

2001 could see quota reached

ITHAD seemed a certain bet that the UK would not reach quota this year, but having exceeded 2000s production every month since April, some pundits say the race is not over yet.

Since foot-and-mouth broke out in February, some 750,000 cattle have been slaughtered. But the over-30-month scheme was shut for five months, leaving an extra 308,000 cattle on farm.

Although DEFRA has not split the figures between beef and dairy, the Meat and Livestock Commission estimates that only 170,000 of those culled were dairy cows. This equates to about 700m litres of lost milk production.

Consequently, the number of cattle kept on farm has increased since F&M began, but those destined for the OTMS will yield less milk than those that were slaughtered. That results in a net loss of about 280m litres of milk. In spite of this, weekly deliveries have stayed consistently above last years levels.

Charles Holt, of Charles Holt Consultancy, estimates the cumulative shortfall to be 140m litres. "This is a significant amount to make up, but it is not impossible," he says. "Many of the cull cows will now be in calf and it will take less than an extra half a litre/cow/day to make up the deficit."

The gap between milk price and leased quota is at historically wide levels, which will encourage farmers to lease extra quota and increase milk volumes. The annual survey by the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers shows confidence is growing.

"The majority of progressive producers are planning to expand milk production significantly in 2001, both in terms of herd size and yield per cow," it states.

Mark Webb of surveyor Webb Paton agrees. He has had enquiries for parcels of up to 1bn litres of quota. "Quota prices are at almost record lows – it is not a good gamble to risk over-production," he says. "A recovery from this far behind is possible – we did it in 1998-99, so it can be done again."

Although the OTMS is almost back to last years turnover, the backlog will take some time to clear, and pressure on housing will force farmers to cull extra cows when winter comes.

For that reason, dairy co-op First Milk expects a 6% fall in production in late October, rising to 7% in January due to missed inseminations. Genus shows artificial inseminations slipped due to F&M restrictions, with an average delay of six weeks expected for between a quarter and a third of the national herd. But accurate figures of DIY inseminations and use of bulls on farm are hard to come by and some analysts are sceptical about the importance of this lull.

One co-op director concurs: "Cows can milk for much longer than in the past, so they will not dry out in November simply because they are late getting in calf. Our weekly milk deliveries are showing little sign of the normal drop in production for this time of year. This trend should continue because of higher milk prices and good quality forage on-farm." &#42

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