Voice of experience answers producers pleas for support
DONALD Biggar knows the anguish caused by foot-and-mouth disease. As well as losing his own long-established Grange herd of Beef Shorthorns and the Chapelton herd of Galloways to the disease, he has spent the past two months helping others in a similar situation to come to terms with their losses.
As chairman of the Farm Business Support Steering Group, Mr Biggar and six other local farmers continue to provide a vital communication link for the 500 producers in Dumfries and Galloway who have lost all their stock.
"The formation of the group resulted from discussions between NFU Scotland and the Scottish Executive," he says. "A need was identified for a communication link between those who had lost their stock and those making the decisions in Edinburgh."
Scottish Enterprise Dumfries and Galloway was asked to co-ordinate the initiative, with funding from the Scottish Executives enterprise and life-long learning budget.
"Our remit was to focus directly on those who had suffered a complete cull," says Mr Biggar. "We sent out letters explaining who we were and then arranged 20 small group meetings to try and get people to come and discuss their problems. It was as much as anything about getting them off their farms to come and talk.
"We discussed the impact of the disease and the emotional trauma. And then we moved on to address all the questions that people had.
"We set up an issues register where the questions that people had were fired up to Edinburgh for answers. The questions and answers, which now runs to about 46 pages, are published on the Scottish Executives web-site.
"It was so important for people to have a definitive source of information because they were in a situation where rumour and innuendo meant that there were about 20 different answers locally to every question."
Involvement in the group has been highly rewarding from a personal point of view, says Mr Biggar. "People would arrive at meetings all introverted and uncertain. And just a couple of hours later, the same people would be looking forward with a noticeable boost in morale. Being able to talk to other people in the same situation was so important."
On his own farms near Castle Douglas in Dumfriesshire, Mr Biggar, too, is looking to the future.
"We are certainly planning to re-stock, although I doubt very much that it will be at the same levels as before,"
The Biggar family has imported beef Shorthorn embryos from Canada and implanted them in cattle in the north of Scotland – an area unaffected by the disease.
"So hopefully we should see the first calves back at Grange before too long," he says. *