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OPINION

COMPETITION FOR Britain”s food market has seldom been greater. It”s not a new phenomenon – our population, now 60m, has attracted exporters for generations.

North American wheat, Argentinean beef, New Zealand lamb and butter, Danish bacon and so on, have all been established here for 100 years or more. Since the Second World War governments and the EU have used various means to help insulate domestic farmers from the competition.

But that insulation is on the way out and in this age of global trade and overnight airfreight from virtually anywhere in the world the number of exporters has expanded exponentially. Some of the foods coming in are either ethnic or exotic or both.

EXPERIENCE

 One of the main reasons I have arranged farm study tours over the years has been to try to assess, together with other farmers weekly readers, the probable competition from different locations around the globe. Now, more than ever, farmers need to experience such situations for themselves. Reading about it, in FW for example, is a big help. But it”s no real substitute for visiting the fields, kicking the clods and talking to the principals of those farms and businesses most likely to pose the biggest threat to UK farm prosperity.

Last May we went to central Europe to look at some of the former communist countries that had just joined the EU. The speed with which some of them had progressed since the collapse of the Soviet Union had to be seen to be believed. There can be little doubt their membership of the EU will ensure more of their farm produce heading our way soon.

But we had time only to look at a few of the 10 new member states. A couple of the most advanced, both socially and agriculturally, are Latvia and Lithuania and I have had a small hand in helping set up what promises to be a fascinating visit next July. Once again the tour will feature both native and British-run farms and it will be instructive to compare the two. Reports from contacts suggest most expat Brits are doing much better than they would if they had stayed in this country.

Meanwhile, I”m taking a FW party to Cuba in late February. I shall report what we see when we get back, but I already know we shall be looking at a number of enterprises in which UK firms have an interest. There are, for instance, potential Cuban purchasers of seed potatoes from Britain. Needless to say, the Cubans hope to export a sizeable part of the crop back to Britain.

And then, of course, we shall be studying sugar. That will include the vexed question of EU sugar regime reform and how Cuban cane growers view the opportunities it would supposedly provide for them. I strongly suspect those opportunities are regarded more favourably by EU politicians than by most of the people they say they want to help. But that”s a subject for another column.

I am also finalising details for another tour I am taking in June.

That one starts in northern Russia, centred on St Petersburg, where I shall be keen to see the changes since I last visited 15 years ago during Gorbachev”s time. We will then travel by train to Helsinki, Finland where we”ll spend a few days looking around farms; then by ferry to Stockholm for a few days in Sweden, ending the trip by coach to Oslo and a short stay studying Norway.

COMPARISON

 So, the trip will begin outside the EU, continue through two member states and end in another non-member. Scandinavia is, of course highly sophisticated in every sense compared with Russia and that alone will make an interesting comparison. But all the countries on the route have shorter summers and harsher winters than ours, or most of the rest of the EU.

So, how do those farmers who work under the same EU rules compete against the rest of us?

One way is by doing different things, such as forestry, which they seem to do better and more profitably than we do. I have the impression that they also diversify more than we have done in the past and we shall be investigating the truth or otherwise of that assumption.

One visit I”m looking forward to will be to a firm that makes sectional log cabins and affordable rural houses.

All trips are organised by Jill Lewis at the Agricultural Travel Bureau, Newark (Tel 01636 705612). She will provide details for readers interested in joining the tours.

OPINION

8 September 1995

OPINION

Winter linseeds well worth waiting for

Struggling to harvest damp linseed in a typical autumn can be a wretched task. How much better to cut it in the heat of the summer.

With higher yields, pest-free establishment and a healthy market, the new winter varieties could improve the crops prospects.

But growers must wait for seed. Sowing spring types may be tempting – NIAB trials show some lines were ready as early as winter ones this year, with slightly higher yields.

But few winters will be as kind as the last. Spring linseed will not survive cold for long. So the advice is to be patient.

MAFF must act before stall and tether ban

Three years. That is the time left for pig producers to replace their stall and tether dry sow housing with a welfare-friendly alternative.

Their challenge is to improve accommodation without overburdening their business. The NFU is right to press MAFF for grant aid to help fund the investment.

After all, producers have been forced to adopt this unilateral legislation seven years ahead of the rest of Europe. Even then other EU producers will have to replace only tethers.

MAFF should act now to show the UK pig industry that it can have the confidence to invest in the future. Let us bring an end to all the uncertainty and help producers plan ahead.

Information can ward off spray criticism

Spraying in strong wind is asking for trouble. Most UK arable farmers know the dangers and take great pains to avoid them. But what can we do to uphold farmings excellent safety record?

Even when pesticides stay on target some people simply resent the presence of a sprayer in a nearby field. Arming sprayer operators with the information they need to answer on-the-spot criticism would be a useful first step.

Admittedly, expecting hard-pressed operators to justify their activities on the spot is asking a lot. But that is a small price to help improve the publics perception of UK agriculture and one well worth paying.

Good start from the new Welsh Secretary

Three cheers for the new Welsh Secretary, William Hague. His decision to produce a rural White Paper for Wales by the end of the year shows good sense.

Mr Hague is prepared to listen to farmers, unlike his predecessor, John Redwood, who stubbornly refused to include Wales in the current review of rural areas.

The move, which follows intense lobbying, corrects a discriminatory decision that incensed farmers and landowners throughout the principality.

Perhaps now Mr Hague could turn his attention to the arable area aid scheme, which so disadvantages Welsh growers.

Four yield mapping systems? What for?

Its good to be common – at least where electronic components are involved. Sadly that is a principal lost on the manufacturers of yield mapping equipment.

With the big four combine harvester makers now poised to offer such extras why have they chosen to introduce four different systems?

New technology leads to the development of different systems. Inevitably some will be better than others. But if yield mapping is to achieve widespread support the industry must adopt a universal system. That system should offer farmers equipment with a standard level of operation, components and results.

More of you agree – FWs essential reading

More and more farmers agree that farmers weekly is essential reading. Our circulation has increased by about 1000 copies over the past 12 months. Average weekly sales reached 98,268 between July 1994 and June this year. The figures were compiled by the independent assessors the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

This is the fourth successive circulation increase for farmers weekly. It reflects the journals continuing commitment to top quality, independent editorial coverage of UK farming.

Whether it is the latest advice on livestock feeding or the current thinking on cereal seed-beds, farmers weekly is regarded as a valuable business tool by an increasing number of farmers. Not only are we a trusted adviser in the field and stockyard but also in the farm office and home.

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OPINION

1 September 1995

OPINION

Play waiting game for bulkier maize crop

Easy to say, hard to do in practice. That goes for many things in farming but it is particularly true when it comes to advice on feeding fodder crops this season.

But however tempting it may be, maize growers should think twice about zero grazing or harvesting their crop early. Waiting could pay dividends in the form of a bulkier, higher feed value crop.

Even drought-stressed maize plants will produce sugars to form starch in the cob with only a small amount of green in the leaves. Moreover when it rains, crops will still bulk up before harvest.

New approach needed to cut grim statistics

Agriculture 1994-95: 54 killed, 18,000 injured. Those are the grim statistics the Health and Safety Executive released last week.

Dreadful as they are it is even more alarming to find the figures have changed little over recent years, despite a falling workforce.

That raises a crucial question: Are the HSEs efforts to educate farm staff effective or must we now accept such statistics as the norm?

The latter is clearly unacceptable. A death a week and over 50 serious injuries a day have no place in our industry. New approaches to improve the safety record of UK farming are clearly needed.

Farm planner finalists face familiar dilemma

The dilemma facing finalists in the Farm Planner of the Year competition is familiar to many.

With lower commodity prices looming do you cut costs and run the business on a shoestring or seek income from outside, through contract work, for example?

The competition asks students to produce a five-year farm development plan. Their proposals range from cautious to courageous.

Of course there is no right answer – only hindsight will identify the best plan. But the students approaches provide some useful hints for the tricky task of weighing threats and opportunities.

It is an exercise many farmers must conduct themselves, with the future of their business as the prize.

Complex links in the yield mapping chain

YIELD mapping is little use unless the results can be related to the following years inputs.

To achieve that we need to look at the links between agronomy, soil conditions and yield. So it is gratifying to see fertiliser supplier Hydro working along such lines.

It aims to show how nitrogen rates can be varied across the field according to an input map. For the first split that is based on yield potential, plant density and soil nitrogen reserves – not just a yield map.

Results look promising. But the work also demonstrates the complexity involved. Anybody expecting overnight results from precision farming is set to be disappointed.

Hello diseased stock – goodbye profits

Bringing stock on to a farm can also bring in disease. And when that happens you can wave goodbye to profit.

Buying in store lambs for finishing is a prime example. It is far from safe to assume preventative treatments have been carried out.

Wise farmers will plunge dip or inject for scab and lice and also dose for roundworm. Vaccinating against clostridial disease and pasteurellosis with a second dose four to six weeks later is also prudent.

To reduce handling and stress such treatments are best started as soon as lambs arrive. By following such a policy for new arrivals there is a better chance profits will be maximised when they leave the farm later in the year.

Who will pay for the future of agriculture?

We must do something to help new entrants. How many times has that plea been voiced by different sections of the industry in the past year?

Special measures do exist in other EU countries. But the sticking point in the UK is MAFFs reluctance to contribute cash and farmers reluctance to give up quota.

Low interest finance schemes are a way forward, suggests the NFU. But who pays? Midland Bank agriculture director, Norman Coward makes it clear that banks cannot be expected to finance such schemes without EU or MAFF support.

But he suggests farmers with surplus funds could arrange credit unions or co-op schemes. Perhaps that is a challenge leading farmers could take-up to contribute to the future of our industry.

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  • News

OPINION

21 July 1995

OPINION

WFUhelps kids switch on to sheep farming

Congratulations to the Womens Farming Union for its latest initiative for schools. Its new video is designed to teach junior school children about sheep farming and its products.

To help children switch on to the advantages of modern farming the WFU has joined forces with the National Association of Teachers of Home Economics and Technology. It is producing a teachers pack to complement the video and fit in with the national curriculum. All credit to the teachers, too, who paid for the pack themselves.

No-one can doubt the skills and enthusiasm available to explain other farming topics. All thats lacking is the money.

Black market milk needs a crackdown

Those involved in black market milk are rightly being brought to book.

The greedy, dishonest few who trade in black milk threaten the future of organised milk marketing. Attempting to circumvent the quota system and dodge their super levy liability is bad enough, particularly for honest producers in a year of record overproduction.

But the black marketeers have done far more serious damage. They have handed further ammunition to the anti-farming lobby which is only too willing to misrepresent farming as an industry awash with corruption.

Profiteers who exploit the unrivalled reputation of UK milk deserve to feel the full weight of the law.

Spade work now for good soil structure

The answer is in the soil. Old advice perhaps but good soil structure lies at the heart of even the most modern cropping programme.

Correctly manage soil structure and subsequent crop management often falls into place. Make mistakes and you condemn crops to struggle from the start.

For evidence look no further than plants that died off early in compacted areas which have been highlighted by the recent drought. Roots struggling to penetrate tough ground failed to find water which lead to premature ripening.

To avoid the problem next season all thats needed is a bit of swift spade work.

Investing a small amount of time now checking soil structure will more than pay off in avoiding unnecessary cultivations and costly crop stress.

French smooth path to bio-diesel usage

The French have a way with bio-diesel. Not only have their bio-diesel producers secured government support, they are also convincing the public that growing rapeseed for fuel is an environmentally-friendly option.

A bio-diesel charter is proving a valuable means of helping growers and advisers and promoting the crops green credentials.

It is an excellent initiative which should be taken up on this side of the Channel. A similar scheme, demonstrating the crops value to the UK economy and environment, may even persuade our government to grant favourable tax incentives to bio-diesel producers.

Toppled bull shakes cattle breeding

It never pays to put all your faith in one bull. The wisdom of that advice was shown recently with the release of the latest Canadian proofs featuring the downfall of Prelude.

This world-renowned bull used as a sire of sons worldwide, crashed on both production and type figures. His demise could wipe-out a generation of bull proving schemes. It will also cost many pedigree producers, who have invested heavily in the bull, very dearly.

Clearly the industry must strive to guarantee that the first progeny test for every bull is as random as possible.

How rye could really take the bicuit…

Pick a pocketful of rye – it could be a highly profitable pastime. At least, thats the view of the UKs leading crispbread maker.

Ryvita bases its view on the fact that home production can now satisfy not only domestic demand but also significant exports.

A further boost to UK production is expected after a new £1.5m advertising campaign designed to promote crispbreads benefits for slimmers. Although theres little chance of a McDonalds triple cheeseburger on rye crispbread, new ideas could swell demand.

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