Sheep becoming too risky to bother with, says NSA

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BIG mixed farms may get out of sheep because of the danger of hefty fines for inadvertent breaches of Electronic ID rules, the National Sheep Association has warned.

The NSA is calling on MEPs to call in the scheme for review. The latest trouble with it is acceptance by Defra and the regional UK governments that they cannot allow any tolerance for errors while the new system is bedding in.

EC auditors threatened national fines for any government-sanctioned non-compliance, so farmers have been told they must do their best and risk docking of their Single Farm Payments if they are found wanting.

Phil Stocker, chief executive of the NSA, said this week: “The decision on zero tolerance ignores the difficult relationship between IT technology and living creatures and is not considered affordable by a farmer who receives an automatic financial penalty for inaccuracy. Sheep farmers feel completely betrayed in having a system imposed where they are penalised for the technology not being 100 percent reliable.”

NSA chairman John Geldard, based near Kendal, said: “The only way forward now is to get this regulation reviewed because it is clear that it is not working. We cannot have a situation where large mixed farms are turned away from sheep because they put their entire CAP payments at risk. That is not helping farming to develop to address the needs of food security and sustainability.

“A growing number of EU member states are realising that EID with zero tolerance is not working. The more member states and organisations that speak up and join forces, the less the regulators can ignore our views.”

Mr Geldard told the Yorkshire Post he could not name a farmer who had given up on sheep but there was clearly a danger of starting a new round of exits from the national flock – already down by a third over 10 years.

Hans Porksen, Northumberland-based chairman of the NFU’s north east livestock board, said he had not heard of anyone getting out of sheep because of the EID problem but it was possible.

He said: “I can’t name them but I was told just recently about two farmers in Yorkshire who have lost five per cent of SFP for failing to have a date in their records for when a sheep was tagged.

“If your SFP is £250,000, and there are plenty of those, that is a lot of money for very minor offences.”

chris.benfield@ypn.co.uk