EVERY farmer in the land is delighted that the Scottish Government has decided there can be a modest relaxation of livestock movements in the midst of the foot-and-mouth crisis: but great care will have to be exercised.
Sheep and cattle can be moved from farm to farm, but that process will then involve a 20-day standstill period on the unit receiving new stock. That will be difficult at a time when most farmers are keen to both sell and purchase livestock, but it is better than no movement at all.
The regulations are precise in that it will not be permissible, certainly in the short term, to isolate new arrivals and continue the normal trading pattern.
Sheep farmers desperate to buy rams in the wake of the cancellation of the great Kelso sale will have to consider their situation closely. It will be a question of balancing the need to sell lambs that should have been sold weeks ago with ensuring that there are sufficient rams on hand to mate with the core breeding flock.
Buy a ram, even from a neighbour, and there will be no chance of selling anything for almost three weeks. The gamble that many will consider is that if the FMD situation is contained, as it would appear, then the Scottish Government may well sanction further relaxations over the next ten days.
That assessment was well appreciated yesterday by Jim McLaren, the president of National Farmers' Union Scotland. He said: "We very much welcome the announcement of farm-to-farm movements, which come at a crucial time for many livestock keepers.
"The additional flexibility will be a lifeline for many, but it is essential that producers are aware of the strict conditions. The only way in which we can progress back to normal is if the industry can clearly demonstrate its compliance with all the necessary restrictions. We want to see auction marts open again as soon as possible. Further down the line, we then require to get exports back to normal.
"In the meantime, we maintain hourly discussions with the Scottish Government on such topics as a potential welfare scheme and regionalisation.
"But, be assured, we will leave no stone unturned when it comes to fighting for compensation for all the many people, and that includes many more than farmers, who have suffered as a result of this catastrophe."
That remains the underscored agenda: farmers have done their best to avoid FMD, but the European Union is till importing huge quantities of beef from Brazil, where cattle are routinely vaccinated against FMD. Yet, if the UK was to adopt a vaccination policy it is almost certain that exports of beef and lamb would be banned.
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