Free vet-led Annual Health and Welfare reviews to be available from next year

Eligible pig producers in England will be able to receive free vet visits for a health and welfare review, as the first step on the new Pig Health and Welfare Pathway.

The free vet-led Annual Health and Welfare reviews, which will include diagnostic testing for priority diseases and bespoke advice, will be funded under Sustainable Farming Incentive from 2022, as part of the new domestic agricultural policy for England.

The vet visits were unveiled as part of a wider announcement on the Agriculture Transition in England by Defra Secretary George Eustice at the Cereals Event, in Lincolnshire.

About the vet visits

When the scheme starts in 2022, the Annual Health and Welfare Review will initially be available for all commercial cattle, pig and sheep keepers who are eligible for BPS. It will also be open to farmers eligible for BPS, who already have an agreement under an existing agri-environment scheme (such as Countryside Stewardship and Environmental Stewardship) – provided the Sustainable Farming Incentive standard they choose is compatible with their existing agreement and does not result in them being paid twice for similar activities.

As a first step on the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway, Defra will fund a yearly visit from a vet or vet-led team. The intention is that this is a time limited offer for three years – the effectiveness of the Annual Health and Welfare Review will be reviewed and the need for further regulation will be consulted on.

Defra said the aim of the review was to help reduce endemic diseases and conditions within livestock, promote responsible use of veterinary medicines, improve welfare and increase farm productivity, and build on the strong relationships that exist between farmers and vets.

It will include diagnostic testing for priority diseases or conditions, and bespoke advice on health, welfare, biosecurity and the responsible use of medicines. As part of the review, farmers and vets will share data which will be used to better understand the health and welfare of the national herd and flock, and not for inspections.

“The farmer and their chosen vet will agree a series of recommended actions after a detailed conversation about the farm, its practices and any known health and welfare concerns or opportunities. Where a health and welfare plan exists for a farm, this will be the initial place to start conversations between the farmer and their vet, with the review building upon those areas covered in the existing health and welfare plan,” Defra said.

“The review will recommend actions to improve livestock health and welfare, agreed between the farmer and the vet, that will be a way of measuring yearly progress. It will also signpost more support available to the farm for making these improvements, including the upcoming grants to improve livestock health and welfare.”

Testing will initially focus on identifying priority endemic diseases or conditions, in cattle, pigs, and sheep. “These testing priorities have been co-designed with industry, to ensure we are focusing on health issues that matter to farmers, as well as delivering benefits for the public,” Defra said.

In pigs, the initial focus will be on Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome virus (PRRS), which is estimated to cost the industry around £52 million per annum and increases antibiotic use, but the approach could later be applied to other endemic diseases such as swine dysentery.

Defra added that action taken as a result of the Annual Health and Welfare Review will contribute to government commitments on the responsible use of antimicrobials.

NPA reaction

NPA senior policy adviser Rebecca Veale, who sits on the Pig Pathway steering group, said there would be a different approach for smaller producers and larger commercial producers, for which it will involve a more in depth look at the health and welfare on the unit.

“This is something that will be of interest to producers – the vet visit is a great opportunity to deep dive into the herd health and welfare and as part of this there will be some diagnostics available to help identify the challenges specific to the farm,” she said.

“This is only the start of the pathway scheme, which will, over time, deliver more funding opportunities to improve pig health and welfare, so it will definitely be worthwhile for producers to engage with the opportunity.”

Transition plan

Speaking at the Cereals Event in Lincolnshire, Defra Secretary George Eustice also outlined how farmers will be able to earn up to £70 per hectare for actions to improve the health of their soil.

He set out further details around how farmers will receive payments for different schemes under the Agricultural Transition Plan, which he said would be tailored in the interests of English farmers and co-designed and developed in partnership with industry.

Over this Parliament, the government has committed to maintaining the current levels of investment in farming of £2.4bn per year, on average. What Mr Eustice described as ‘unfair and ineffective’ Direct Payments are being gradually phased out to move to a fairer system, with the funding released into environmental land management schemes, which will aim to help boost productivity and reward environmental improvements.

30% of the funding released from Direct Payments for environmental and climate outcomes will be made available for farm level actions through schemes such as the Sustainable Farming Incentive. Farmers will also be eligible for locally-specific and landscape-level schemes through Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery.

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About The Author

Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.