Herd of cows

Report highlights cost of Bovine TB to South West farmers

A new report highlighting the economic impact of Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) to the South West’s farming industry has been produced by experts at the University of Exeter.

The research, which looks at the financial implications of the disease on a cross-section of livestock farms across the region, was carried out by Dr Allan Butler, Dr Matt Lobley and Professor Michael Winter of the University’s Centre for Rural Policy Research.

The report shows that the monthly loss of a bovine TB breakdown varied considerably from farm to farm, from just under £505 to nearly £3,184.

It also highlights perceived issues by farmers over variations in the current compensation scheme, which they believe can lead to a “mismatch” between compensation payments and market value.

The report, 'An Economic Impact Assessment of Bovine Tuberculosis in South West England', it has been funded by the National Farmers Union (NFU), Devon County Council and South West Sustainable Farming and Food Board.

Dr Matt Lobley, Acting Director at the Centre for Rural Policy Research, said: “This research has revealed considerable variation across a range of different types of costs associated with bovine TB. Consequently average figures, either for costs or calculating compensation, obscure much of the detail at an individual farm level.

“Furthermore, in addition to economic losses, bovine TB is imposing considerable costs on the personal well-being of many farm households and also raises profound livestock welfare issues.”

Research for the report, including in-depth interviews with farmers, was carried out from March to September 2010, using case studies of both dairy and beef farms in the South West that have been impacted by the disease.

It suggests that the current chart-based compensation system  derived from sale data obtained from store markets, prime markets, rearing calf sales, breeding sales and dispersal sales in Great Britain, rather than individual animal valuations  fails to reflect the perceived value of stock.

It suggests that farmers that breed and manage high-value stock are likely to be under compensated, whereas farmers with cattle perceived in the market place to be of lower than average quality, expressed in terms of price, are likely to be over-compensated  a situation one farmer described as ‘inadequate’ and ‘farcical’.

Although the focus of this study was on economic impacts, it also illustrated the stress and upset that bovine TB can bring to the farming industry, with farmers sometimes feeling like ‘bystanders’, which can be upsetting for them and their families.

Commenting on the report Phil Norrey, Chief Executive of Devon County Council, said it “throws much light on the social and economic costs of bovine TB”.

He said: “Dairy farming is an essential part of the economy, landscape and culture of south west England, which once lost will be impossible to replace.  Whilst Foot and Mouth grabbed the headlines, the attritional impact of TB has been far more significant. As the report shows, any system of compensatory payments will be imperfect and can be no substitute for a concerted approach to the eradication of the disease."

John Lee, Chairman of the South West Sustainable Farming and Food Board, said: “This report is not only timely but a very welcome and authoritative study into the economic impact of bovine TB on a cross section of South West livestock farms.

“While resources did not permit a wide scale study, we can be confident that the outcomes give a clear indication of the identifiable costs livestock farmers face, and a clear understanding of the social impact on their families. Given the importance of livestock to the region this report highlights the need for concerted action to tackle this disease."

The report is available by visiting: http://centres.exeter.ac.uk/crpr/publications/pdfs/Econ_Imp_Assess_%20bTB_SWEng.pdf

Date: 7 October 2010

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