Snapshot of UK agriculture restraint

20 Oct, 2005 07:00 PM
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THE American Murray Grey Association has 138 members in 27 states and the biggest herd comprises 60 breeding cows and acknowledges the black Murray Grey in the herd registry.

In the United Kingdom society membership stands at 40 with five breeders owning herds with more than 100 cows.

These facts, delivered by breed representatives to the congress, provided a snapshot of the breed in other countries but also alerted Australian breeders to the increasing restraint imposed on agriculture in the UK.

William Woolley from Lancashire told the congress breeders were constantly struggling to compete with beef imported from Europe.

A slowing economy had reduced consumer spending on food by 14-15pc at a time when extra British beef production, rising after serious disease outbreaks, contributed to downward pressure on slaughter cattle prices.

Dairy and cereal farms also were in decline because of attitudes from an urban-based government in a country where agricultural voters accounted for only 2pc of the voting population.

Mr Woolley's bleak scenario was that the UK was no longer competitive in agriculture and was too expensive for the government to support.

Subsidies were being phased out and replaced by area payments, effectively an annual payment to farmers for their defined future role as park keepers looking after fields and mowing the grass to present a picturesque tourist landscape.

Mr Woolley said France, which had a strong agricultural lobby, and Germany, which was the gateway to the eastern block countries, were the last bastions of agriculture in Europe.

In the UK farming land was freely available at small rents as farmers left their industry but the cost of land ownership continued to go up based on a general shortage of accommodation in the UK, Mr Woolley said.

In his country BSE and foot and mouth disease (FMD) were consigned to history but it had taught them lessons for the future and he liked to think British beef was now the safest in the world.

He urged Australian farmers to adopt and commit to the National Livestock Identification Scheme saying Australia had a long way to go to equal the traceability and certification systems in place in the UK.

"You cannot move a cow to a show or between properties without sending her passport to the ministry," Mr Woolley said.

"Illegal immigrants are not certified half as well as the cattle in Britain."

Since BSE farmers had only been able to sell animals less than 30 months of age, but a change of law from November 1 will allow producers to sell older cows for human consumption under strict regulations accrediting abattoirs.

With the imminent introduction of older cow slaughtering, farmers had been retaining and feeding old cows for this market.

Because of the closure of many processing works as a result of BSE and FMD there were fewer processors and only one had so far met accreditation conditions, raising concern among farmers there would be lack of competition in the new market.

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