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Last Updated: Friday, 26 October 2007, 10:04 GMT 11:04 UK
Future fears of hill sheep farmer
Steven McKenzie
BBC Scotland News website, Highlands and Islands reporter

Allan Young, a hill sheep farmer from near Inverness, is questioning whether there is a future in the industry.

Lambs at Dingwall mart [Pic: Craig Anderson]
Sheep prices have fallen this year

He said it has been hit hard by restrictions that were imposed in the wake of foot-and-mouth outbreaks.

While welcoming a Scottish Government rescue package, he said it still fell short of covering sheep farmers' loses this year.

And he warned the impact will reach far beyond the farm gate.

The immediate effect has been a severe loss in earnings.

But grouse shooting estates and efforts to encourage future generations to go into farming are among the side effects of the troubles facing Scotland's sheep farmers, according to Allan Young.

Mr Young farms approximately 1,220 sheep at Ruthven Farm, Moy, south of Inverness, on hill land rising 900-2,000ft.

Many lambs reared on hill farms are sold at auction to other farmers to be "finished" and sold for meat, a large proportion of this is exported.

Last year, he was selling ewes in excess of £29 but this year he has been getting about £16 for what he described as the best of his stock.

"On average we are £10 down," he said, adding that other sources of income from sheep have also been poor.

"Already this year the wool cheque was way less than the cost of shearing and the cost of feed is up - I've just had a quote for lamb finisher pellets of £189 a tonne."

On Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Richard Lochhead announced a £25m rescue package for Scottish farmers.

Of that £19.2m will go on a scheme to support sheep farmers, equivalent to a payment of £6 per breeding ewe.

It really makes you wonder, in the long term, if there is a future
Allan Young

Mr Lochhead said Westminster should have been paying after the outbreaks in England.

Mr Young said £6 will go some way towards loses but still fell short of what farmers should have made this year.

He also hit out at the political bust-up that had erupted over how farmers should be compensated.

The row occurred between Westminster and Holyrood when First Minister Alex Salmond accused Environment Secretary Hilary Benn of dropping an £8.1m funding package for Scots farmers.

Mr Salmond said this was due to the decision not to hold an autumn General Election - a claim denied by Mr Benn.

Mr Young said: "If it is to be believed that there was a package available and then withdrawn then that is absolutely shocking.

"It is a national problem. It is quite unforgivable that they washed their hands of it. Some credit should go to our Scottish Executive as they have tried to help us."

'Sexy job'

But it will not just be Scottish agriculture that will suffer, Mr Young said.

"One of the most effective ways of controlling tick on the hills are sheep," he said.

"Young grouse are a ready meal for tick. They pass on diseases that kill them."

However, Mr Young said that tick cannot survive on sheep that have dipped in a wash used to combat parasites.

So a viable hill sheep farm in turn helps an estate's shooting syndicate by aiding in the protection of the grouse, he added.

Work to encourage young people to stay on or take up farming could be hit hard too.

Mr Young said: "The nature of the work does not make it a sexy job as they say. The recompense for the labour put in rearing the animals and taking care of the environment with the responsible handling of sheep dip is an insult.

"It really makes you wonder, in the long term, if there is a future."

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