WITH the erosion of the Scottish beef herd being an almost constant concern, supporters of one of the country's hardiest breeds yesterday called for a reintroduction of direct subsidies for those who keep cattle.
The Highland Cattle Society open day at Dalmally was ostensibly to promote the breed for its inherent ability to survive and breed on some of the most difficult terrain.
The farm visit to Castle Estate on the slopes of Ben Cruachan easily made the point. In sleeting rain, owner David Rees pointed out his herd of 50 Highland cows, kept on land that stretches up to the 3,600ft contour in an area where the annual rainfall hits 120in – one of the highest in the United Kingdom.
"I think the Highlanders just look right here, but we have to make it work financially. Although they were bred pure here previously, we decided when we came here in 2004 to cross them with the beef shorthorn to provide heifers and bullocks that would be sought after.
"It means we have to put in pure replacement heifers for the herd, but it looks as if the system is working."
The cows are never indoors although they are brought down to the lower land for spring calving and in July for bulling. The cross-bred calves are sold privately with the heifer calves making very good hardy hill cows.
Mr Rees and his family farm 6,000 acres in Hampshire which is at the other end of the farming spectrum, but he said his interest in the Castle Estate was purely from an agricultural rather than sporting point of view.
"The farming here does pay, but only with the single farm payment (SFP). It certainly wouldn't appeal to me to take the stock off," he said.
"I feel very strongly that the SFP has to be tied to production. Taking stock off the hills is a very detrimental step and once they have gone, it will very difficult to get them back."
This call was taken up by the majority visiting the unit yesterday. One producer said: "If consumers want to be able to carry on buying cheap food, that is fine, but I will need paid to produce it and if that means direct headage payments, so be it."
Donald Hendry, agricultural adviser with the Forestry Commission said: "If the United Kingdom is to produce more food then a lot of it will need to come from less favoured areas such as Argyll, which are severely under-utilised . But it cannot be done at a loss.
"I am appalled at what has happened here since the introduction of SFP. The only farmers left are in danger of becoming a geriatric generation."
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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