SCOTLAND'S farmers are warning of a looming livestock feed crisis, and appealing to the Scottish Government for assistance.

Following on from a long hard winter that exhausted last year's fodder reserves, hopes of a productive growing season have withered over the hot dry summer months. Grass is now scarce on most farms, with barely enough to graze livestock on now, let alone to conserve and put away for Scotland's next unpredictable winter.

Despite the recent return to rain, farmers fear that those two lost growing months cannot now be caught up, and there is a very real prospect of the industry's cupboard being bare when it is needed most.

Writing to Rural Economy CabSec Fergus Ewing on Tuesday, the Scottish Tenant Farmers' Association requested an early meeting to discuss ways to help the livestock sector weather the next few months – especially with the uncertainties surrounding Brexit looming next Spring.

STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “The picture being painted from Shetland to Wigtownshire is one of an impending crisis with grass growth at a virtual standstill, despite some welcome rain last week, and hay and silage crops between half and two thirds of normal.

"Dairy farmers are having to eat into winter silage rations, buy whole crop silage or face drying off or selling cows to maintain production. The grass shortage has hit cattle markets and the autumn store lamb sales face uncertain trade.

“Traditionally, in times of fodder scarcity, we were able to utilise arable by-products such as straw, carrots potatoes etc and supplement with concentrates or distillery by products such as draff and pot ale syrup," noted Mr Nicholson. "These alternative feeds are now difficult and prohibitively expensive to source; draff is in short supply for a number of reasons, straw also looks like being equally scarce and, as we have stated before, the situation is being exacerbated by tens of thousands of acres of crop as well as tons of distillery by-products being diverted towards the renewable energy sector in supplying AD plants and biomass boilers."

The pressure being put on the forage market by anaerobic digestion and biomass burners is also concerning the National Sheep Association, which this week called on policy makers to review energy grant structures that 'dual-fund' non-food crops.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “Forage stocks were completely used up during the harsh winter we experienced, but instead of being able to rebuild stores, the dry weather means sheep farmers are already using winter feeds to sustain flocks due to a shortage of grass.

"The risk of feed and bedding shortages is fast approaching and costs are rocketing, yet potential feed stock, cereals, maize and grass, as well as straw for biomass, is dedicated to energy production. That is why NSA is calling for a rethink around incentives for AD plants and large-scale biomass burners," said Mr Stocker.

“We have already raised serious concerns over crops for energy being eligible for the Basic Payment Scheme as well as Renewable Obligation Certificates and Feed in Tariffs, as this is a clear example of dual-funding and distorts the market to the disadvantage of livestock farmers.

"If land being cropped for AD plants was still growing crops for livestock feed, there would be far less concern over the increasing risk of winter feed shortages that are now looking certain,” he said.

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