With the government compensation for brucellosis reactors coming to an end on August 31, 1970 – except for the 600 herds out of the national total of nearly 42,000 as yet to be on the brucella-free register – the question of private insurance was one of the most urgent confronting Ulster farmers this week in 1970.
When he addressed a special press conference on the subject at Dundonald House the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Phelim O’Neill was in no doubt about the urgency in obtaining “cover” immediately.
Stressing the need for farmers to insure against the risk of break-downs in brucellosis-free herds Mr O’Neill said that premiums would amount to only a comparatively fraction of the new bonus of 37s 6d a head for cows and the extra 1 1/4d a gallon for milk sold to the Milk Marketing Board.
Backing his plea for farmers to take out insurance the minister said that in his own case he should be getting about £170 in bonus payments in respect of his large beef herd.
“My insurance premium should be around £20 which I consider quite a happy situation,” he declared.
And Mr O’Neill had a sharp warning to those who did not seek insurance cover.
“They need not come bellyaching to me or my ministry after September 1 if they have not effected an insurance policy.”
However those herds not yet on the brucellosis-free register would continue to receive compensation as was the position at that time.
The ministry had “put its hand to the plough” and would see the eradication scheme through said Mr O’Neill.
Some of the representatives of insurance companies attended the press conference at Dundonald House indicated that a number of farmers were already in the process of taking out private insurance for their herds.
Mr Edwin Conn, chief veterinary officer pointed out that only about 600 herds out of the 42,000 in the country were restricted. Thus 98 per cent of the total herds were in the brucellosis-free register and the break-down rate was one per cent.
The eradication scheme had started in 1963 and to up to August 1970 it had cost £3 million out of Northern Ireland funds.
Of the efforts to get eradication as near as 100 per cent as possible Mr Conn said that it was “now up to owners of brucellosis-free herds to take precautions to prevent break-downs”.
The eradication of the disease was vital both for the individual farmer and for the country’s export image he said.
Mr Conn stressed the need for farmers when purchasing cattle to ensure that they came from certified herds and it was “absolutely vital” to know the origin of the animals.
Both Mr Conn and Mr H S Oliver, assistant secretary, stressed that new herds should be built up with certified animals. If this was done, he said, they would qualify immediately for the bonus and private insurance.
On the question of reactors it was emphasised that the ministry would continue to have them collected as soon as possible.
Mr Oliver said that the whole philosophy of incentive and private enterprise had now entered the field.
While it had to be got across to owners that it was in their interest above all not to have a break-down it was equally important to assure that they could assure them that they could remain clear.
It was noted that after August 31, 1970, when the government’s compensation scheme was to end that only the carcase value of reactors would be payable unless insurance to cover the gap between carcase and market value had been taken out.