Farmers urged to report signs of Schmallenberg disease

by Glyn Roberts, FUW president

SINCE the start of the year we have heard reports that Schmallenberg Virus (SBV) has made a comeback in Wales, with some earlier lambing flocks reporting losses of up to 25 per cent. SBV was first reported in Germany in 2011 and has since spread across Europe, landing on our shores in September 2012. After a few years of absence, which might be down to weather patterns, farmers vaccinating their sheep and cattle and immunity in livestock previously exposed to the virus, it was then again found in cattle in December last year, where SBV exposure was reported in both bulk milk and blood samples in Welsh livestock. Signs of the disease in cattle include reductions in milk yield and fever, whilst adult sheep may be infected without showing clinical signs of the disease at all. However, new born animals display birth defects, such as deformed limbs and many are born dead or die soon after birth. SBV is spread by midges and is more commonly found in the south of England, but there is concern that the presence of the disease in more northerly regions could mean that the virus was circulating in Wales from the late summer. Back in 2013 we welcomed the fact that the Veterinary Medicines Directorate had issued MSD Animal Health with a licence to provide the new “Bovilis SBV” vaccine and UK farmers were the first in the EU with access to this vaccine which helped protect sheep and cattle against birth defects caused by SBV. There were 1,753 confirmed cases of SBV throughout the UK in 2013 and we were pleased that farmers from then on had the choice to opt for vaccination to protect their livestock. Of course, vets can advise you on how best to manage the risk on your farm, including making business decisions about diagnostic testing to confirm presence of disease and vaccination. It is not a notifiable disease but I urge our farmers and vets to report any suspicious cases to APHA for testing as part of their enhanced surveillance. Time to look carefully at farm accounts Looking further into the future, there continues to be complete uncertainty about what will happen after Brexit in 2019, either in terms of trade deals, access to EU markets or agricultural support. However, there is no shortage of those proposing the sorts of damaging policies the FUW has warned and lobbied against for years: Only weeks ago, former Secretary of State for Wales John Redwood told the House of Commons that tariff barriers for cheap food imports from other countries should be removed in exchange for access to their service and industrial goods markets, and that farm enlargement should be the order of the day. Meanwhile, talk of drastic or complete cuts to the agricultural budget is commonplace amongst some politicians. Over recent weeks I have come across more and more farmers who have woken up to the potential impacts of such policies, and some have asked their accountants or financial advisors to produce financial reports on the viability of their businesses without direct support. Others, perhaps for understandable reasons, prefer not to look so far ahead, but I would urge all members to ask their accountants or a financial advisor to produce a report on their dependency on CAP payments: 2019 is just two years away, and it is essential that farmers are proactive now in terms of gaining an insight into how, or whether, the farm would survive if some of these policies are introduced.

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