A farmer who has two jobs to make ends meet must find almost £4,000 in fines and costs for breaking the rules on cattle records.
Eric Anderson fell behind with paperwork designed to make every animal traceable in case of disease outbreaks. It was the second time he had been prosecuted for record-keeping offences.
Many small farmers must face similar problems, his solicitor Ian O’Rourke told Berwick magistrates on Tuesday.
Without computer skills, he could not file information online to meet the strict deadlines, so tried to do it on the automated telephone system.
“He has a very broad Northumbrian accent which the computer programme for the telephone wouldn’t recognise,” Mr O’Rourke said.
At the time, he had been in serious financial difficulties and working at a caravan park as well as looking after his herd of 35 beef cattle.
“As if that wasn’t enough, he had a charge put over his property in relation to a loan and he was responsible for organising and sorting out his daughter’s wedding.”
Anderson, 63, of Budle Farm, near Bamburgh, admitted eight offences – six of giving false birth dates of cattle, one of failing to register an animal and one of failing to keep a register of births, deaths, movements of animals and replacement of ear tags.
Lisa Bishop, prosecuting for the county council’s Trading Standards department, said the regulations were vital for disease control.
A farmer should give every calf a unique ear tag within 20 days of its birth and apply for a cattle passport for it within seven days of tagging. Without a passport, an animal cannot be moved from the farm and so is usually economically worthless.
When animal health inspector Robert Hedley made a routine check at Budle Farm, he thought some animals looked much older than the records suggested and he made other visits to investigate. Anderson admitted falsifying details for six cattle.
Mr O’Rourke said the business had once been much bigger, but 100 acres had been let and 30 acres sold to Bamburgh golf course, leaving a very small farm.
“In essence, he was running the entire farm business and all the record-keeping from the back of his car, so it wasn’t the way to keep these sorts of important records,” he said.
His sister had now taken on the responsibility of doing the work online.
His business partner had been unable to spend much time on the farm because his wife had been suffering from cancer. He had been given a warning rather than prosecuted.
Anderson was fined a total of £1,920 plus £250 court costs, £1,614 investigation costs and victim surcharge of £15 for victims of crime.