19th May 2016

Scottish Farmers Urged to Embrace Beef Efficiency Scheme Opportunity

Scottish beef cattle farmers are being urged to embrace the Scottish Government’s Beef Efficiency Scheme (BES) as an opportunity to drive their businesses forward.

Jim McLaren, Perthshire beef farmer and chairman of Quality Meat Scotland, urged all producers of beef calves to sign up for the scheme before the application window closes

“This is a great opportunity for the Scottish beef industry to take a concerted step forward. It has the potential to deliver real benefits for the bottom lines of individual farm businesses and our national herd and I strongly encourage producers to act now so they don’t miss out,” said Mr McLaren.

Recognising the scheme has generated considerable comment and discussion in recent weeks, Mr McLaren said it was vital producers are aware of the benefits of this new initiative and do not choose not to apply because of uncertainty or confusion.

“It is important to remember that the history of this scheme dates back to the Scottish Government’s announcement of a £45 million aid package for the Scottish beef sector way back in 2014,” said Mr McLaren.

“The announcement stated that the aid would be delivered through the next round of Rural Development funding and that is what is now happening. It is also worth remembering that this is entirely new money to agriculture which Ministers found from elsewhere in response to the industry’s requests for assistance.”

The makeup of the scheme sees the inclusion of some of the recommendations of the industry-wide Beef 2020 report (put forward by an industry steering group chaired by Mr McLaren) and includes the creation of a central database of information which farmers and others will populate.

The scheme also has to be approved by the EU as an agri-environment climate change measure.

“It is important to bear in mind that any activity which reduces emissions will also reduce waste and help with farmers’ bottom lines. In many ways this scheme could be viewed as effectively a waste reduction exercise with a three year annual payment for farmers to go with it – a win-win scenario,” Mr McLaren said.

However, he also acknowledged the scheme was not without imperfections – with the potential to cause frustration - mainly emanating from the area-based nature of the payments. This means that for a business which is expanding the extra numbers will not attract any additional money as the base year is 2015.

“Conversely, if your business is downsizing then your payment will not reduce provided you have enough animals to tissue sample each year. That equates to 20% of the original number of animals during the reference period. It is against the rules for a scheme such as this to be seen to drive production in either direction,” he said.

Another concern which has been voiced, he said, is around penalties and cross compliance and the implications of misreporting sire data and genotyping.

“It is a requirement of the scheme to record the sire of every calf, and although many farmers are already doing this, for others this is new ground. With sires being rotated on many farms with a view to raising conception rates, producers are concerned about getting the sire ID wrong.

“However, sire ID is not an EU reporting requirement so there is no scheme or cross compliance penalty for incorrect sire recording. Obviously producers must try their best to accurately identify the sire as this is central to the success of the scheme, but if an honest error is discovered through the genotyping process, this can simply be corrected.”

The weighing of calves between 120 and 400 days is another central requirement of the scheme, observed Mr McLaren, saying this will be one of the most important pieces of data farmers will collect. This can either be done individually or in a batch weight of evenly sized animals at a mart or over a local weigh bridge in the farm float. 

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