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Reduction of the sheep flock at Cultybraggan
Teviot Scientific, Cultybraggan Farm, Comrie,
Perthshire PH6 2HX
29 Aug 05
Decisions on farm management need
to be made in the wake of the reform of the Common Agricultural
Policy (CAP) that has been introduced in the UK so precipitously.
The Scottish variety of this now uncommon agricultural policy (uncommon
because it is applied in different ways in individual member states)
means almost total decoupling of farm subsidies from production,
together with a progressive reduction in subsidy each year - called
modulation - whereby funds are siphoned off to support other forms
of "rural development". What is called "financial
discipline" is also threatened, whereby the amount of CAP subsidy
available to the UK via Brussels may be further reduced if the cost
of supporting the new member countries of the EU escalates beyond
Belatedly, the Scottish Executive Environment
and Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD) established what the terms
of its Land Management Contracts (LMCs) would be. After much preliminary
hype - which was largely misleading - these terms do little if anything
to help Scottish farming, other than to pursue "environmental"
issues (1). But such environmental goodies
become largely irrelevant if Scottish farming is not in itself profitable.
Clearly the "green" lobby - through such bodies as Environment
LINK - have been able to exert far too much influence on political
policy with very little real benefit (and probably much harm) to
rural Scotland as a consequence.
Sorting ewes and lambs at Cultybraggan
(to enlarge - Click Here
to super-enlarge - Click Here)
Photo ©Kimpton Graphics
The empty rhetoric of Ross Finnie, SEERAD Minister
(Liberal Democrat), at the SAC outlook conference in November 2004,
when he talked about decoupling of subsidies from production "opening
up the market" and "freeing Scottish agriculture",
has been revealed as predicted for what it is (2),
However hard farmers try at marketing, the prices they get for their
cattle and sheep have nevertheless plummeted to disastrous levels.
There is no "free market" and well does Ross Finnie know
it, but little does he care. His political party is committed to
getting rid of farm subsidies. Yet he and his party still want cheap
food - presumably from anywhere whatever its condition or whatever
the air miles on a global market. The Office of Fair Trading has
been inept, With regard to food supplied to the service sector,
the government has failed to implement rules allowed by the EU regarding
the country of origin.
The fallacies in SEERAD thinking have even become
apparent to SEERAD itself, as illustrated by the revised terms of
the much trumpeted Farm Business Scheme. This was introduced in
2001 with the aim of encouraging Scottish farmers to diversify out
of farming (3). Millions of pounds of available
money allocated to the scheme had remained unused, but lots of farmers
have left the industry. So now there is now an acute shortage of
persons wanting to work on farms. Belatedly, SEERAD have now expanded
the terms of this ill-conceived scheme to include projects that
might actually help farms to function better, while still encouraging
diversification out of farming - a real mixed message. But this
latest gesture is too late in terms of planning how farms are to
be managed this autumn, this winter, or even through to next spring.
Farming is a business and it cannot be run on the whims of political
The weather invariably has an influence on what
any particular farm can or cannot achieve. This year has been exceptional
in that after a long and rather cold spring there have been six
weeks of almost complete drought in this area. This has led to the
biggest crop of hay that Cultybraggan has seen for many a year,
but little silage and probably very little, if any, second cut of
silage. For the same reason, it also looks as though in this geographical
area the yields of straw from the barley crop may be well down on
previous years. That all adds up to a serious shortage of winter
feeding and bedding for this particular farm.
The urban-based academic rural economists - but
who might enjoy the pleasures of having a second home in the countryside
- may argue that farms should co-operate by buying in straw from
where its is plentiful. We have all thought of that a long time
ago, but the horrendous fuel costs - mostly tax - are prohibitive.
So the decision has been made to reduce the sheep
flock at Cultybraggan from 442 breeding ewes to somewhere between
100 and 125. No replacements in the form of hogs or gimmers or shearling
tups will be bought this year. No visit this year to the Kelso tup
sales - the biggest sale of rams in Europe (4).
The four tups currently on farm should be sufficient.
Instead of having a forward plan stretching for
some years ahead, the farm is being pressed into planning from year
to year, or even from season to season. The alternative is to capitulate
to the "environmentalists" with their serious lack of
knowledge about farming, dictating as to how the land is to be used,
because they have gained the purse strings, at least in part by
misinforming the voters through their power over the media. Scotland
did not achieve its international standing for livestock by following
political and minority group agendas promoted by those who know
little or nothing about the subject.
People walking on the numerous rights of ways
on the farm have commented with some regret on the fewer lambs that
are running about. They are right. For the first time in the 17
years that I have been at Cultybraggan all the lambs have been sold
off before the end of August as stores to be finished on other farms.
The result is that the farm loses the satisfaction of producing
a finished product that upholds the traditional quality of Scottish
food, and in which it can take some pride.
Reduction in the superb herd of suckler cows on
Cultybraggan is also planned. It will be the subject of a subsequent
In sailing terms, it is a matter of batting
down the hatches until, hopefully, the political/economic debacle
in this country passes, while the rest of Europe continues its farming
with a more favourable breeze in its
How may other farms be affected?
As the autumn advances it will become apparent
whether the situation as seen at Cultybraggan is more or less reflected
in other parts of Scotland, or indeed in the UK as a whole.
Remarkably, The National Trust, not an organisation
renowned for its support of farming (5),
has already sounded alarm bells that the rural idyll in Cumbria
is in danger from a lack of shepherds (6).
Blackfaced sheep on moorland
What will the future hold for such grazings?
(To enlarge photo: Click
To super enlarge: Click
Photo ©Kimpton Graphics
What the effect will be on the Scottish countryside
remains to be seen, but the RSPB might yet rue the day they complained,
sometimes with little justification, about over grazing of heather
by sheep. Perhaps there may not be too many farmers who are satisfied
with husbanding livestock simply to provide what are regarded as
"environmental tools" by self-proclaimed "conservationists"
and enthusiasts of "diversification".
Interestingly, Andrew Arbuckle, previously farming
editor of the Dundee Courier and now a listed Liberal Democrat MSP,
has stated (7):
"I do not see any quick cure for the forthcoming plunge
in farm output, rather the best we can hope for is a long road
Could it be that the Liberal Democrats at least
may be seeing the error of their ways, while their Labour partners
in the Scottish coalition press on regardless in misguided mode
(8). But at the next election for the Scottish
Parliament in 2007, the Labour and the Liberal Democrat parties
are likely to want to go their separate ways. A particularly sad
scenario would be if neither achieves a sufficient majority, and
no other party makes sufficient progress. The minority Green party
could end up with even more say, not because the voters support
their cause but just because the Greens would be able to trade their
votes in other important areas in order to achieve their superficially
well-intentioned, but illogical and largely destructive, ambitions
regarding the "environment". It would certainly be grim
for farming in Scotland.
But when can we get out of the EU and its incredible
bureaucracy? At least there are signs that a start has been made,
when earlier this year the French said "non" and the Dutch
said "ney" to the proposed European Constitution. As far
as what we think in the UK, Tony Blair was too scared to ask. Rather
he prefers, in the global game he likes to play, to continue to
use UK agriculture as a mere pawn in the political arena.
1. `Irvine, James (2005). Land
management contracts analysed: item 10 - biodiversity cropping on
inbye. Surely the stupidest of them all.
See SOCIAL/ECONOMIC/POLITICAL Homepage, filed 14 Mar 05,
Here to View
2. Irvine, James (2005). Review:
SAC outlook conference "Benefiting from change" 16th November
See SOCIAL/ECONOMIC/POLITICAL Homepage, filed 23 Jan 05,
Here to View
3. Irvine, James (2001). "New
enterprises - new beginnings" Farmers workshop sponsored by
SAC, Coupar Angus
LandCare Scotland: Vol 1, pp 45- 50.
4. Irvine, James (2003). Kelso
ram sales. What to buy?
See FARM Homepage, filed 14 Sep 03, www.land-care.org.uk
Here to View
5. Irvine, James (2005). Fury
with The National Trust as it plans to break up historic farm in
the Lake District.
See ENVIRONMENT Homepage, 29 Jan 05, www.land-care.org.uk
Here to View
6. Editorial (2005). Some conservationists
wake up to the fact that "environmental" agendas may not
be good for conservation.
See ENVIRONMENT Homepage, 13 Jul 05, www.land-care.org.uk
Here to View
7. Arbuckle, Andrew (2005). Celebrity
chefs could be the salvation of farming industry.
The Courier, 22 August 2005 See www.thecourier.co.uk
8. Irvine, James (2003). Sustainability
in agriculture. Comment on Professor Hillman's director's report,
Scottish Crop Research Unit.
See ENVIRONMENT Homepage, 07 May 03, www.land-care.org.uk
Here to View