Farming: Questions over £6m weather support

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THE Scottish Government’s announcement earlier this week of details of its £6 million weather aid aimed at sheep and cattle farmers was yesterday viewed with a degree of scepticism by the chairman of the Scottish region of the National Sheep Association.

Speaking at Crianlarich, Sybil McPherson called the additional cash a “nice gesture by the government” but she worried that the distribution would prove to provide “maximum grief” between farmers.

She pointed out that those farmers operating in parts of the country where there is no collection of deadstock would not have the required records of their losses and this could prove to be contentious.

When asked her estimate of the scale of the losses, she said that her contacts in the sheep industry provided a very varied picture with some losing up to 30 per cent of their flocks.

In her experience, she said there was no fixed geographical areas that had come off worse than others although some low-ground smaller flocks with expensive bought-in feed had come through the grim weather better than most – although at some financial cost.

Thin-skinned sheep in general had taken “a hammering” while traditional hardy breeds such as Blackfaces had coped best with the elements.

She was adamant that the problems of the past 12 months – and accentuated by the cold spring – would continue to bedevil the sheep industry for some time to come.

This season’s lambs were now coming to market leaner than normal and this, she believed, would adversely affect meat quality. Lambs born lighter than normal would have to enjoy the best of weather from now on to catch up on weight.

She said she would not be surprised if a number of producers had been hit by the weather, by increased levels of parasites, increased farm costs and uncertainty over the future of the common agricultural policy.

McPherson was speaking at an open day on the 2,200 hectare Scottish Rural College (SRUC) hill farm of Kirkton where, after more than a decade of hill farming inactivity, a number of new projects have been started.

These initiatives, decided by a panel including McPherson, who farms a few miles away, include a regeneration of the in-bye grassland, the re-introduction of a suckler cow herd and performance recording of the sheep flock.

SRUC vice-principal Professor Geoff Simm said it was a step back into practical farming where the aim of the unit was to provide a template for other hill farmers to learn from.

John Holland, who is in charge of the grassland work, said that only in the past week had soil temperatures risen to a level where grass could grow.