For Farmers Weekly November 2013
It’s no secret that I’m not a big fan of coupled support but the idea that beef bred calves from the dairy herd could become eligible to attract support in a future Scottish Beef Scheme (SBS)does nothing to change my opinion.
The persistence of NFUS to lobby hard to bring this new stream of support to the dairy sector is regrettable indeed; especially when far more fragile sectors of Scottish farming are certain to suffer huge cuts in their future support. Taking advantage of this period of great uncertainty to drive through their long stated objective is seen by many as being opportunistic and divisive, I can only agree with them.
The fact that the union is having a hard time trying to sell the idea to the other livestock sectors in Scotland is hardly surprising. The Scottish Beef Association has certainly become entrenched against the idea. They can see that the inclusion of dairy bred calves in the scheme will destroy the excellent image that Scotch Beef has built up over the years. At the same time the increased supply of dairy type beef cattle that will be coming onto the market can only serve to supress the prices for their beef cattle.
There is plenty of resentment in the sheep farming sector as well. If dairy farmers are to get a new subsidy and there is no new money in the pot then it has to come from somewhere. Skimming support off the hills to fund a windfall for the dairy sector will not sit well with Scotland’s sheep men. Especially, when sheep farmers have had to accept that coupled payments are not a good option for them in today’s fear saturated atmosphere of compliance checks and penalties.
Another down side to the whole idea is that it will inevitably lead to a reduction in the numbers of dairy heifer calves being born as dairy farmers chase SBS.
It’s more than obvious at the moment, even without the distorting effect of SBS in the dairy herd, that the number of dairy replacements coming forward isn’t able to keep up with demand. The high price of dairy replacements and the lorry loads of dairy heifers being sucked in from Europe is testament to that. So, with the likelihood of fewer home-bred dairy heifers being produced in the future our friends in Europe can look forward to an increase in demand and higher prices for their cattle. Gathering in SBS in Scotland and using it to import dairy replacements from countries like Denmark won’t do much to improve our balance of payments.
In simple terms the equation will look like this: For every two dairy cows that are mated with a dairy bull in all probability you will get one heifer calf and one bull calf. The bull calf will be done away at birth as it will have no value and it will not attract SBS. The net result for the dairy farmer will be one calf and no SBS.
Serve the same two dairy cows with a beef bull and the dairy farmer will be laughing all the way to the bank to buy his new dairy heifers from Europe. He will receive two lots of SBS and he will sell two beef calves onto the home market with the added bonus that he has doubled the demand for powdered calf milk; Holstein bull calves that are killed at birth don’t drink much milk!
Tell me again how this will be good for the Scottish Beef industry?