Hundreds of cattle farmers who committed to the Scottish Government’s Beef Efficiency Scheme (BES) have now opted out.
The despised herd improvement scheme, which initially promised a budget of £45million when it was announced in 2014, struggled to attract producers to sign up in the first place, but a year down the line the talk around ringsides is that beef farmers have withdrawn or are about to withdraw their support on a large scale.
The Government has confirmed that of the 2,114 farmers who agreed to take part, 335 have already formally dropped out.
The disillusionment has come as a result of problems with administration, misinformation and frustration over the delivery of obligatory tissue tags for calves which has made complying with the rules almost impossible for farmers.
NFU Scotland’s (NFUS) livestock committee chairman Charlie Adam says the extent of the industry drop-out is still unknown.
“We know it’s happening because we’re told people aren’t ticking the appropriate box on the Single Application Form,” he said.
“And anecdotally we hear a lot of people have had enough and are getting out.”
High profile farmers such as Douglas Stewart, the host of next week’s flagship Scottish Beef Event in the Borders, have condemned the scheme as a fluffy “load of rubbish” and Mr Adam revealed that if he did not hold his union position he too would be questioning whether he would continue to take part.
“I probably would come out if I wasn’t doing this job,” he admitted.
Farmers can drop out without penalty if they do so before the first payments of £96 per calf are made. These were scheduled to be paid last month but the latest indication is that they will be delayed until the autumn.
Mr Adam was keen to assure farmers still committed to the scheme that NFUS would continue to press for improvements and better communication from the Scottish Government.
“There are still people signed up so we need to make it workable for them,” he added.
“The scheme has been poorly administered, but future support may came in forms like this so we can’t just shove it in the bin. But if something like this is done in future it has to be done better. Government has to listen to the industry about practicalities.”
The last straw for many farmers came when multiple batches of tissue tags arrived at different times of the year for different animals in the same batch of calves.
The Scottish Government has now said in future it will only make one selection of animals for tissue sampling per-business per year.
Mr Adam said that was a “positive change” which had taken industry concerns on board.