Inaccurate read rates could mean financial penalties

by Nan Macfarlane

FARMERS have been given a stark warning they could be hit in the pocket if their sheep records are not up to scratch.

At stake is the single farm payment as farmers may have to pay a financial penalty if their “read rates” are not accurate.

In order to keep track of sheep movements all sheep are now electronically tagged but this has led to even more problems for stock farmers.

Faulty tags and/or poor scanning at markets and slaughterhouses can lead to inaccurate “read rates” which farmers may be unaware of until their records are inspected.

This could affect single farm payments from the EU – which many farmers need to keep their businesses afloat.

However, concern is growing about this liability.

“If farmers don’t get good read rates it might affect their payments and farmers might not know that,” said Rob Livesey, who has 1100 ewes at Firth Farm, Lilliesleaf, and who is also chair of NFU Scotland’s livestock committee.

“Farmers need to be looking at that because it will be an issue if they get an inspection. If tags are being read electronically at the market or slaughterhouse, farmers need to be careful because if the read rate is poor there will be a penalty.”

Rob added: “It could be because of poor tagging – sometimes there are faulty tags - or it could be because of a fault at the market if they are not scanning them properly.

“Farmers need to check the read rates of the animals they have purchased. For example, if I have bought 50 lambs at auction but only 48 are read that is a 92 per cent read rate.

“Or I might get 50 and only have 25 of them read so I would then need to find the numbers of the other 25.

“People are worrying because it is a problem. It happens more than it should. They need to check when they are buying that the read rates are good and accurate in case they get an inspection.”

A spokesman for the National Farmers Union in the North East of England confirmed the issue was a problem.

“Both England and Scotland do have worries that there could be penalties for the farmer but discussions are ongoing,” he said.

Concerns were also raised last month by George Lyon, Liberal Democrat MEP for Scotland, who warned that Scottish farmers face stiff penalties for non-compliance with sheep EID regulations.

The warning came after a leaked document from the European Commission revealed that the only flexibility the Scottish Government has negotiated is that farmers will not be fined on the spot if they have fewer mistakes than the average read at their local auction market.

If farmers have more mistakes than their local auction market reader then they will be fined there and then.

Commenting, Mr Lyon said: “This small flexibility negotiated by the Scottish Government will provide a small crumb of comfort to sheep producers who fear they will be hit with harsh penalties for failing to have 100% accurate sheep records.

“It is deeply disappointing that the Government has failed to persuade the Commission to recognise that on big extensive hill farms it will be almost impossible for sheep farmers to guarantee 100% accuracy and therefore will continue to struggle to comply.

“It is also extremely worrying that although Commission officials have given this proposal the thumbs up it is only subject to the auditors being happy with it at the next round of inspections.

“The Commission is not willing to give absolute guarantees that this proposal will fly.

“Many producers believed that by setting up a central data base in Scotland they would avoid the duplication, extra costs and hassle of recording and keeping individual sheep records on farm but clearly that is not going to happen now.”

NFU Scotland is currently working with the Scottish Government to provide a solution for those concerned.

“Whilst the matter of incomplete read rates at market has not yet been fully resolved, progress is being made on trying to ease the problems for keepers this year and to find a workable system going forward,” said a spokeswoman for NFUS.

Alistair Mackintosh, NFU livestock board chairman, said: “We agree that the present manual system (AMLS) which livestock producers use for identifying and recording sheep movements is out of date, inefficient and not fit for purpose.

“It is essential that we have an efficient system of movement tracking in place in order to control animal disease issues and quickly regain export markets after any disease outbreak.

“We have looked at the provision for new technology and believe there are a number of potential benefits that could be achieved to both industry and government.

“However, there are certain conditions that must be met. Defra need to be clear on the benefits of such a scheme to producers, what would be required of them, the additional costs and who would foot the bill. The Government must continue to bear the full cost and farmers should not have to pay in order to carry out their legal movement recording requirements.

“We would also like to see any future database developed alongside the package of measures made within the independent farming regulation Macdonald task force report and not treated in isolation.

“Provision must be made for producers who haven’t got the right technology or IT skills and, as it has been demonstrated in the last few weeks that having a database is not a shortcut to EID reading tolerances, it’s vital that Defra commit to continuing to work with us to put pressure on the European Commission to sensibly address the issue of tolerance for sheep movements.”