Farmers need consistent rules

Writers Posted 01/03/19
The DEFRA and APHA TB policies continue to be somewhat inconsistent and there is little practical thinking aimed at getting TB under control again writes Nick.

Readers could be excused for thinking of this column as ‘TB Today’ since so much of it has recently been about this disease, It is not however ‘Fake News’ nor is it an extension of ‘Project Fear’. It’s a story of an ‘ever moving feast’, just keeping up with the machinations of Deathra/APHA whose TB policies continue to be somewhat inconsistent.

First, some encouraging news from the South East region NFU. They have finally reconsidered their long held support towards allowing store cattle from HRAs (high risk areas) mainly to the west, into the LRAs (low risk areas) like Sussex/Surrey, old dairy strongholds. It was poorly tested, and strongly suspected by vets of bringing TB, with its depressing, endless 60 day testing, movement restrictions, staff pressure and worry.

They recently presented a resolution to NFU General Council asking, among other things, for improved gamma testing of incoming beef stores; a suggestion which was reportedly well received, which goes forward for further consideration in the Spring. So we await positive news, with common-sense prevailing?

We were aware this resolution was imminent, following a recent meeting with a couple of the NFU’s ‘top brass’, where our view was clearly expressed that dairy farmers had become exasperated with the ‘old NFU line’ of supporting these movements, ‘for fear of being seen as restricting the beef fatteners livelihoods’. But, we asked, at what cost? The ‘knock on’ damage, restricting the livelihood of local, established, dairy and beef herds is huge, coupled with the inability of affected farms to move or sell animals freely. It takes years of breeding to produce a good milking cow, Yet TB can wipe out generations of bloodlines. In beef animals it means taking compensation, going to market, buying replacements?

The resolution mirrors the views of most cattle farmers and many vets in the region. It’s a point I have heard many times over the last few years, a period during which the South East regions’ TB situation has worsened significantly. Just a look at the spread of disease in the South East should tell anyone the situation is critical.

While all this has been going on we continue planning how best to find new homes for the herd, still closed after five* consecutive, negative, skin tests. (*and there is still one culture test result outstanding as this is written.)

Confusingly, a recent NFU web page explaining APHA TB policy, stated quite clearly, “If there are no visible lesions (NVL) in reactors, samples are taken to be cultured in a laboratory, to test for TB Bacterium, which will/would then confirm the TB breakdown.” However we were previously, specifically, advised by email from our regional APHA vet, that such samples from our cows would not be culture tested, because their post mortem tests were negative’. If you are old enough to remember? Maybe the phrase ‘Fred Karno’s circus’ will come to mind?

So we must just wait on the culture result due at the end of this month. Yet why did they rule out culture testing for us last year? Testing which could have cleared us months ago and more importantly would show where the disease is coming from? Now, without any explanation, they reverse their processes again. Farmers need rules which are consistent and show some logic.

There just appears little practical thinking aimed at getting TB under control again. As it was, after the supreme efforts between farmers and the Minister of Agriculture, some seventy years ago? Then all the good work was undone in the 1970s by self interested politicians. Seeking to win the votes of small but vociferous pressure groups; actions which contributed to today’s runaway disaster.

It is satisfying to have possibly contributed, in a miniscule way, towards encouraging some action in this matter. Perhaps influencing the NFU, to pressure Deathra? Then MPs? People who the farming community once respected, trusted to act responsibly. Unfortunately, looking at many of today’s politicians, with their bickering, back-stabbing, disloyalty and dangerous ‘point scoring’ with our country’s future’, (coupled with their almost total lack of respect, to date, for the democratic 2016 referendum result) make many of us quite ashamed. Our faith seems to have been increasingly misplaced. A word now about Isle of Wight farmer and NFU county adviser, James Osman, who has very recently taken up a new role in the Union as chief dairy advisor which is surely a huge job. I have met James a few times and he seems unflappable, personable, level headed and one wishes him every success in his big promotion. He will initially have to cope with so many ‘hot topics’. Apart from TB he has the tricky question of milk contracts, do farmers really want them? The vegan threat too, dealing with some very irrational people. Folk who, the Telegraph recently reported, made a deal with Melton Mowbray abattoir, Foyle Foods, to halt lorries bringing incoming cull cows; ‘to say a little roadside prayer and apologise to the animals, to soothe their final journey’. Perhaps lay flowers, and shed a tear for the BBC film crew. It’s True.

Meanwhile the farming season is under way again. Spring grass is ‘greening’ and we have many young animals just waiting to enjoy it, saving straw and feed pressures. We also need to change crop patterns, ploughing in grass, to which most of the land had been planted for many years. Initially the plan is to grant short term licences for vegetable crops, or maize for AD plants. There are some doubts over longer term plans, with a number of interesting projects/offers ‘passing across our screen’. The Arun Valley land, purchased a few years back to grow fodder for the dairy herd, is, perhaps, to some extent, now surplus, But first things first …


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