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Archive Article: 1999/10/15

15 October 1999

Prize winning potential? Alec Thompsett foreman at Loddington Farms, West Pike Farm, Laddingford, Kent, examines one of the apples grown for the National Fruit Show. The apples are expected to reach at least 3lb.

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Archive Article: 1999/10/15

15 October 1999

Scottish farm minister, Ross Finnie (left), discusses Germanys ban on British beef with St Merryn Meat executive, John Dracup (centre), and MLC chairman, Don Curry, at this weeks Anuga food fair in Cologne. The ban meant no beef could be displayed on the stand.

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Archive Article: 1999/10/15

15 October 1999

&#8226 THE Environment Agency will launch a major national campaign next week to warn the 1.3m households in England and Wales that are at risk from flooding.

The agencys Flood Awareness Week begins on Mon Oct 18 in an attempt to reduce flood damage which has cost £400m in the last two years. The awareness week will be used to launch a new telephone information line which will provide information to anyone who suspects their property is at risk from flooding.

&#8226 THE Pig and Poultry Fair will no longer be held annually after the shows organisers and sponsors the Royal Agricultural Society of England and Pig Farming magazine held an "extensive consultation with exhibitors and visitors".

Instead the show will be held on May 10-11 2000 and will then take place every two years.

&#8226 MAFF has announced that a new cattle ear tag numbering system will be in use from Jan 17 2000.

The new tags will have a crown logo, the UK prefix and a numeric code. This will supersede the existing tags which also have a lettered part to the code. MAFF points out that cattle which already have ear tags will not have to be retagged.

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Archive Article: 1999/10/15

15 October 1999

Maize on Richard Courts Rough Hill Farm, Shennington, Oxon, has never looked back, following wet weather early in the growing season which ensured good establishment. The 11ha (28 acres) of Lincoln, harvested last week by contractor Charles Baker, yielded 36t/ha (15t/acre). It will be fed in a 40:60 ratio with grass silage to Mr Courts 85 Holstein Friesian cows, currently averaging 7000 litres.

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Archive Article: 1999/10/15

15 October 1999

Little has changed at Cockermouth market in its 126-year

history. But now it hopes to move to an out-of-town

agricultural business centre next spring if a retailer takes

over the existing site. FW called in last week

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Archive Article: 1999/10/15

15 October 1999

Kevin Littleboy

Kevin Littleboy farms 243ha

(600 acres) as Howe

Estates at Howe, Thirsk, North Yorks. The medium

sandy loam in the Vale of

York supports potatoes,

winter wheat, rape and

barley, plus grass for sheep

SO much for finishing wheat drilling in the third week of September and lifting potatoes in the fourth week.

While we have fared better than other parts of Britain, wet weather means we have only drilled a third of the wheat and lifted a third of the crisping potatoes so far. The Swale came to within a couple of feet of flooding the potato field, which is the highest I have seen the river in Sept. New rice variety "Appaulus Wetum" will be drilled following the potatoes.

The first field of Saturna has yielded disastrously at 35.8t/ha (14.5t/acre) with an abundance of small tubers that never made 40mm. On the longest day, June 21, it looked a cracking crop and I had high expectations. How wrong I was.

Four Kenneth Wilson trial sites we have on the farm have finally been drilled with the different varieties, seed populations and dressings of wheat, barley and a "discussion plot" of oilseed rape.

A plot drilled with wheat variety CU001KL is already catching my eye with incredible vigour and it has certainly defied the slugs so far. Such insights are the benefit of hosting trials, but the prospect of the open day next summer will mean a few sleepless nights, both for me and my agronomist.

Thankfully, the political parties conferences have been and gone. I am sure they are stage managed purely to upset, annoy and irritate everyone in the rural community. At least, everyone with the slightest bit of common sense and intelligence, that is. As only 11% of the population lives in rural areas, I suppose I shouldnt be too surprised.

Compulsory reading for every farmer should be the MAFF report, available on their excellent website www.maff.gov.uk/farm/ agendatwo called "Agenda 2000 Cap Reform: Economic Impact." However, I should warn those prescribed valium not to read it, or take a double dose first. &#42

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Archive Article: 1999/10/15

15 October 1999

James Hosking

James Hosking farms 516ha

(1275 acres) with his

parents and brother at

Fentongollan, Tresillian,

Truro, Cornwall. Land is

equally split between share

farming, various FBTs and a

tenancy. Crops include

wheat, oats, barley and

daffodils, alongside sheep

and cattle enterprises

WE are in the middle of three jobs at once: autumn drilling, planting back the last of the daffodil bulbs and lambing our Dorset ewes.

Wheat varieties being sown are Madrigal, Equinox, Hussar, Reaper and Claire – all "barn fillers". There is little point in trying to grow milling wheat here as any premium on the grain is lost in the extra haulage to get to a mill. We have cut seed rates from 350/sq m to 300-325/sq m due to the higher price of seed this year.

Flax straw has now retted sufficiently, and we will bale it on the next suitable day. That will complete another crop cycle, when we have yet to receive the subsidy for last years crop.

Looking back at the harvest, we were very pleased with all the crops. However, I find it a little disconcerting that while we think that we have had good yields this year, we have only reached what all the pundits are saying has been the national average.

I read Stephen Harts ideas (FW News, Sept 3) for reform of the support system with great interest, and believe they should be given serious consideration. Countryside that is perceived as beautiful by the general public generally has a higher cost of production and is therefore less economic to farm. If the landscape is to be maintained in the way people would like, then economies of scale should not be the only route available to stay profitable.

Those in the corridors of power could be forgiven for thinking that farming in this country is mostly huge open expanses worked by very few men driving very large machines from the way it is always reported in the press. However, there are many other areas of the country which do not have those agricultural advantages. Here, at Fentongollan, we are very proud of our landscape and hedgerows. Despite an average field size of only 3.6ha (9 acres) we would be very reluctant to try to increase our field sizes, even if planners permitted it. &#42

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Archive Article: 1999/10/15

15 October 1999

John Alpe

John Alpe farms with his

parents at New Laund Farm,

near Clitheroe in Lancashire.

Besides the tenanted 80ha

(200 acres) the family own

36ha (90 acres) and rent a

further 40ha (100 acres).

Stocking is 60 dairy cows

and 60 followers, 500

Swaledale and Mule ewes

and 250 store lambs

Early Autumn has proved to be kind as far as the weather goes. Dry warm days have realised some good grass growth and ensured virtually no poaching of the land by sheep or cattle.

Dairy cows were housed overnight at the end of September and they seem to have enjoyed big bale silage offered in the central feed passage.

Our local breeding sheep sales are coming to an end with our Mule shearlings and two-shears averaging just over £42 compared with last years price of £60. However, gimmer lambs that have been sold have decreased in value by some £15 to be worth only £25 each.

In our case the only real exception to the general rule of falling prices is that of cast ewes. Last year they were virtually worthless, and this year yet again they seem to be worthless. I suppose it could be said that at least they are holding their own, which despite being a weary concept is the grim reality.

We now have only five cast ewes remaining, which are best described as delicate. However, at least the rest have been sold with some value, albeit a low one. It has crossed my mind in the past that they may become a financial liability.

All our Mule replacements and around half our Swaledale replacements are bred on the farm. This means we have to buy some horned gimmers or shearling Swaledales each year.

Three years ago it cost us the value of one Mule shearling plus another £10 to purchase a Swaledale shearling of the quality we wanted for our flock. Last year we found them both valued the same price.

This year the Swaledale shearlings are fetching £25 which is a good £17 less than Mule shearlings. Despite this being to our benefit, allowing us to make some savings, the hill farmers that sell these sheep are stuck between a rock and a hard place and are facing even greater financial hardship this year. &#42

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Archive Article: 1999/10/15

15 October 1999

Teddy Maufe

Teddy Maufe farms 407ha

(1000 acres) as the tenant of Branthill Farm, part of

the Holkham Estate,

Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.

Sugar beet lies at the heart

of the rotation, with other

crops including winter

barley, wheat and oats,

spring barley and triticale

LAST month I said we could do with some rain to soften the ground for sugar beet lifting. Since then we have had 125mm (5in) and, needless to say, our drilling programme has been seriously delayed. Only our oats were sown in the early slot, and we have had to retreat to our lightest land, drilling Halcyon winter barley. Sadly, the first success factor behind last harvests good barley yields, timeliness of drilling, is already slipping away.

Analysing last years accounts with Larking Gowen, our accountants, proved a sobering experience. We have made a similar loss to the previous year in spite of a vigorous cost cutting programme and above average yields for this predominantly light land farm. As a result, we had no option but to serve a rent review notice on our landlord. The rent set three years ago was at a rate I felt reasonable then. But malting barley was worth £140/t and sugar beet £37/t, not the £80/t and £28/t they are today. All other fixed costs have been, and are being, driven down and the rent remains the last one untouched.

We started lifting sugar beet a few days before Wissington opened and the first loads are averaging 16% sugar, 6% top tare, 6% dirt tare. Yield looks like being average, which is the best we could have hoped for following severe pre-drilling compaction on the sticky ex-aerodrome field. Several rotten beet in the crop have been confirmed as fusarium by my agronomist, Dr Philip Draycott, and he suspects newer varieties are more susceptible to this disease.

At an excellent talk by David Richardson on the future of Norfolk farming, one of the subjects raised was the absurdly high bids for FBTs. Many seem to bear no relation to the earning capacity of the land. Most farmers would like to add land to their business to help cut fixed costs, but at these exorbitant rents they are in danger of actually raising them! &#42

Average sugar beet yields at Branthill are as good as could be expected after spring compaction, says Teddy Maufe.

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Archive Article: 1999/10/15

15 October 1999

Mike Rowland

Mike Rowlands 141ha

(350 acre) Bowden Farm,

Burbage, Wilts, is in organic

conversion with 32ha (80

acres) going fully organic in

October 99. Potatoes,

carrots, wheat and peas will rotate with grass for suckler

cows. At Amesbury 404ha

(1000 acres) is in

conventional seed production

NEVER trust a politician. We have listened to the Labour Conference and now the Conservatives and I dont think either have anything to give away. Higher interest rates, a possible pesticide tax, slow and poor response over BSE: there is little to choose between the two parties. With pressure on supermarket profits I dont believe we can expect any favours from them either.

Why we put up with this treatment I dont know. But we must be more professional, united, and market with companies we can trust. We must be more co-operative, growing specific varieties, rather than commodities, for companies we can trust and who understand our problems. And we must fight our corner harder, like the French, at all levels with the public.

As farmers, collectively, we have no "business strategy". After a good potato year, like last year, what do people do? Plant more. Quickly a precious food turns into a commodity to be off-loaded at any price.

In the organic sector we must try not to make the same mistakes and market through outlets that understand the growers problems and needs. In turn, we should grow what the market wants in quality and quantity, so discouraging the ultra large concern that grows for greed not need.

On the farm we have been looking at a pile of seed corn in the barn and a barometer that seemed stuck at an all time low. The only activity for three weeks was emptying the rain gauge with regularity, and 89mm (3.5in) of rain has soaked seed-beds to a considerable depth.

However, my son is pleased that the drill is flying up and down the field again with his conventional crops. Let us hope this spell of weather lasts to catch up with potato lifting and to finish our drilling here at Bowden Farm. Our first 32ha (80 acres) has just completed organic conversion, and we are looking forward to planting two fields of Hereward winter wheat. &#42

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Archive Article: 1999/10/15

15 October 1999

&#8226 SUBSCRIPTIONS for the Assured Produce Scheme can now be paid on a rolling annual basis to better mirror crop cycles, scheme registrar Checkmate International has announced.

&#8226 MONSANTO has confirmed the sale of its PBI Cambridge spring pulse varieties Maris Bead and Minerva to WA Church (Bures) for an undisclosed sum. Maris Bead tic beans and Minerva maple peas are established varieties grown primarily for pigeon and animal feed use in the UK and overseas. &#42

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Archive Article: 1999/10/15

15 October 1999

British food on march was superb

On behalf of myself, my husband and fellow farmers who joined the Bournemouth march, I would like to thank everyone especially the wonderful farmers and growers who provided such wonderful food for the barbecue.

If everyone in this country could have enjoyed the great British food we ate, they would never want to eat foreign rubbish again. British is best.

Sally Sadler

Careys Farm, Toddington, Cheltenham, Glos.

Recovery route missed property

How good to see such a positive stance being taken in the Route to Recovery feature in FARMERS WEEKLY (News, Sept 24). It had constructive comment for almost all sectors of farming. Almost all, because there was one notable omission – farm property. The omission is understandable in that it is the one area where there is at present little need to press for political change.

The route to recovery is there to be taken, whether one is a landlord, an owner-occupier or a tenant.

That stems from five essential factors.

First, the strength of the rural property market. This brings opportunities not just for the sale of surplus premises such as cottages and paddocks, but also for lettings whether for residential use or the commercial occupation of converted barns.

Second, planning authorities are tending to encourage diversification and are more open to individual proposals.

Third, the 1995 Agricultural Tenancies Act created a greater flexibility in the occupation of land.

Fourth, agricultural property continues to attract special reliefs from capital taxation and to offer important provisions for retirement.

Fifth, funds are available from both the UK government and Europe for a variety of environmental and development projects.

Farm incomes may have slumped to record lows, but the number of potential remedies is greater than ever before. The possibilities are almost endless: Diversification, development, renegotiation of leases, refinancing, restructuring, sub-letting, contracting, joint ventures, early retirement, and more. The opportunities are there, they just need to be identified and appraised properly. When implemented, they could make all the difference for the future.

Peter A B Prag

Consultant, Humberts Chartered Surveyors, 25 Grosvenor Street, London.

Rally marcher on the cover

Thank you for the support FARMERS WEEKLY gave to the NFU rally which took place at the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth on Sept 27 (News, Oct 1).

I have been an avid reader of FW since I first set out to make a career of farming in 1949. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was pictured on the front cover (Oct 1) with other marchers.

Derek Wareham

The Old Smithy, Eardisland, Leominster, Herefords.

Supermarkets steal our cash

Farmers are going through the worst crisis in living memory due mainly to factors outside their control.

In the publics eyes we are paid subsidies to support us.

In reality, the subsidies are taken from us by the supermarkets greed and by government regulations controlling production methods specific only to this country. We are meant to be part of Europe and the grand Common Agricultural Policy, so what is our response to all of this?

Nothing if the actions of the majority of us are anything to go by. Maybe a grumble or two here and there and a forlorn hope that it will get better in the future.

Why do the majority of us sit back and do nothing while our livelihoods are slowly taken away from us? It is not just the supermarkets stranglehold on the retail sector which is to blame. It is also our government which is intent on making us produce to strict standards and then letting consumers purchase whatever they want from wherever they want.

On top of all this some people blatantly wave their IACS cheque about without any consideration whatsoever to the less fortunate who have rents to pay or poorer land to farm.

Surely it is time to take radical action to ensure equal opportunities exist for farmers across Europe and to make the public aware of the fact that the supermarkets are bleeding us and them dry? Only then will we secure the future of this industry.

We have two options, curl up and wither or fight and survive. If we do nothing, then nothing will change.

JB Everatt

Manor Farm, Island Road, Garthorpe, Scunthorpe, Lincs.

Small farms are more efficient

For the past two decades, the Whitehall mandarins and some of the good and the great farmers with whom they lunch, have been influencing government policy to effectively destroy family farms. They feel the small and medium-sized farms should give way to large and corporate units.

To that end they have distorted CAP payments. The system was devised to create adequate food for Europe and also give a fair living for the continental farmer. The large and corporate arable enterprises have received £bns in excessive subsidies for the past 20 years. That has distorted land values and created very high input costs for all farmers.

So it is interesting to read that Sentry Farming has lost £1.4m or £18 for each of its 75,000 acres. This in spite of receiving many millions in subsidies year after year. Is it wise to let the countryside be abandoned to such wasteful businesses? I contend that smaller family run farms are more efficient, less wasteful and able to give better value to the tax payer. Modulation is a must.

Chris Redding,

The Grange, Hewish, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset.

Action over pig prices needed

Malton Bacon Factory base price fell recently by 3.5p/kg over an eight-day period.

I have read the action plan put forward by the chief executive of the newly formed NPA, Mike Sheldon. If he cannot do any better than witter about long-term suggestions "bringing together interested parties and risk management," I, and I hope many others, will not help pay his salary.

Pig farmers need to press the government and retailers to label all pig meat clearly, to ban all sub-standard imports and to remove any BSE-related costs from our industry. Action is needed now. In fact I suspect that pig prices are going to fall further so that the end of pig farming in the UK is imminent.

F Henley

Green Farm, Soutfield Lane, Seaton Ross, York.

Does union care about pigs?

On Sept 28, Sainsbury advertised in the Daily Express unsmoked bacon – 300g/£2.79 – buy one, get one free.

As a pig farmer I was pleased to see that this was British bacon, but startled at the price; £2.79/ 300g equates to £9.30/kg. Even with a "buy one, get one free" deal it is still £4.65/kg.

During September we were paid 76p/kg for bacon pigs, so someone in the chain between farmer and housewife is making a significant profit at our expense, as well as cheating the housewife.

I forced myself to watch Countryfile week last Sunday in the hope that the NFU leader might ask the farm minister what all pig farmers would like to know – why there is no help for the pig industry in any shape or form? I was shocked when he totally ignored John Cravens lead to ask such a question and discussed poultry instead, not wishing to ruffle the ministers feathers with a difficult question on pigs.

As a former NFU member, I suggest it is time for a complete shake-up of the organisation. The leadership needs to get out of bed with Labour, stop leading the industry like lambs to slaughter and start fighting like lions.

E Kime

Ivy House Farm, Minting, Horncastle, Lincs.

Farmer co-ops are the tops

I agree wholeheartedly with Richard Whitlock of Sandy, Beds (Letters, Sept 24). Farmer co-operatives are doing sterling service to the industry. I just cannot understand why farmers trade wholesale produce any other way. There are some excellent co-ops on this island and we must remember collective marketing gives strength to a product. Co-ops are, in the main, controlled by farmers who can check that any profits made are being reinvested to benefit members rather than shareholders or greedy directors.

S Watson-Bowen

Dunplowin, Upton Magna, Salop.

Taking a stand against ACCS

I spent a considerable sum of money altering and adapting buildings, lighting and recording systems to comply with the requirement of the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme. Earlier this year, after paying a cheque for £250, I was inspected and found to have satisfied all requirements.

I am now requested to make a further annual payment based on the hectares planted for the year 2000 harvest. I consider that request to be premature and inappropriate, as myself and most arable farmers have certainly not completed plantings for the next harvest. In a difficult season it is quite the norm to amend plans perhaps at the dictate of the weather.

I am now engaged in trying to market my grain from the 1999 harvest. One would have expected, being a member of ACCS to have been entitled to expect some sort of premium over growers that had not bothered, or were not able, to meet the criteria of the scheme. That is not the case. Marketing of most, if not all farm produce, cereals included, is difficult in what is best described as a collapsed market. Growers are having to cut input costs to the very bone. I cannot justify using more fertiliser, fungicide or growth regulator, unless I can see a benefit. How can I consider it prudent to continue membership of the ACCS?

Although I feel it ethical to maintain the standards previously achieved, I have decided reluctantly to discontinue my membership. If and when it is apparent that the scheme is no longer a commercial nonsense I shall re-join and lend it my full support.

GR Dixon

Old Hall, Sunk Island, Patrington, Hull.

Why no cut in scheme costs?

Growers will now be receiving invoices for their subscription renewals for the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme for the 2000 harvest. Many like myself are likely to be very disappointed that there has been no reduction in subscription levels since last year.

When the scheme was set up it was indicated that subscription levels would be reconsidered and it was intended to reduce these depending on the rate of take up of membership. ACCS now has, apparently, 8400 registrations covering over 4m acres of crop which certainly has exceeded the expectations of the sceptics and, no doubt, initial ACCS budgets.

The justification from ACCS will doubtless be that they have a three-year contract with the administrators. However, commercial experience should tell them that contracts can be renegotiated. If it is pointed out to the administrators that if they are unable to offer a significant reduction in their charges and they are unlikely to be asked to tender for the next contract, that will no doubt focus their minds.

A further justification may be that ACCS intend to enhance the scheme with more inspections, more stringent regulation and record keeping and a larger organisation to support the increased bureaucracy.

I am a firm advocate for farm assurance and my motivation for support for ACCS was that it was to be an industry initiative to pre-empt the imposition of more costly regulation by MAFF and the supermarkets.

I hope the directors, who now find themselves in receipt of a very considerable cashflow, will remember these original objectives and seek every means to limit the financial burden on growers who have suffered 45% plus reductions in their business income since the scheme began.

To add insult to injury, the grain buyers are still sourcing non-assured grain and blending it with assured grain with no price differential.

Growers may like to consider informing ACCS that they intend to withhold subscription payments until more reasonable charges are offered.

AJ Coleman

Lower Norton Farms, Norton, Sutton Scotney, Winchester, Hants.

What is point of grain quality?

I have just received a renewal notice for my ACCS membership. I am wondering if anyone could give me good reason for spending £350, of the banks money, to continue my membership? When I joined two years ago, I told my sceptical friends that we must all join because our customers were concerned about how our food was produced. After all, I was also a member of FABpigs, because I could not sell my pigs without quality assurance.

Two years later, I watch the supermarket trucks thunder along the A14 eagerly bringing in yet more supplies of quality offal-fed, stall produced pigmeat. And I realise how far sighted and progressive I was to embrace quality assurance thus ensuring that the supermarket barons would loyally buy my produce.

Surely, I must continue my ACCS membership, if it can do the same for my arable enterprise as FABpigs has done for my livestock unit. Then, all my business worries would be over because I wouldnt have a business to worry about.

My miller tells me he would love to buy my quality assured milling wheat, but the wet wheat harvest dropped the Hagbergs so he will have to import some nice quality assured foreign wheat. Never mind I can always sell my ACCS feed wheat to the FABpig industry. Hang on a minute, are there any pigs out there?

Adrian Taylor

Clattercote Priory Farm, Claydon, Nr Banbury, Oxon.

Agriculture is some sandwich

We were told in a recent article in The Times newspaper, that our industry has been dragged down to the economic importance of "sandwiches" in the past few years.

That may be the case when measured in £s but to misquote Churchill, some sandwich, some filling! Without this industry there very soon would be neither bread nor filling!

However the story indicates just how economically unimportant agriculture is rapidly becoming to the country.

Sadly, MAFF along with many others only sees its role as managing the decline of this industry. Its up to us within the industry to address that decline and evolve a strategy for the future. Nobody else is going to do the job for us.

Michael Seals

Springfields Farm, Foston, Derbys.

Processing co-op not the answer

Nearly every farming paper I read seems to contain an article suggesting that the way to the promised land for dairy farmers is to form a co-op and get into processing. Certainly, it sounds easier than ostrich farming!

The main reason that the price of milk is low is because there is still something like 10% over-capacity in the milk processing sector and the supermarkets are playing one processor off against another.

Creating more processing capacity will not help the situation because processed milk still has to be sold on an over-supplied market. Perhaps buying up some existing processing capacity would make more sense.

Since the price of milk reached its peak, about £600m/year has been knocked off producers milk cheques. During the same period dairy companies have increased their profits by £42m/year equivalent to 0.45p/litre. Not the sort of figure to get your bank manager excited.

Many producers have been asked to find considerable sums to help finance a processing co-op. Given that the average age of milk producers is in the late 50s, I hope they are not investing proposed retirement funds. I also suggest that before parting with their money they are given the true facts and dont get over-ruled by emotion. I cant help feeling that if all milk producers discarded 10% of their milk for 12 months it would be a far cheaper solution.

Neville Doel

Hayleaze Farm, Crudwell, Malmesbury, Wilts.

Bad old days of milk return

The government has accused Milk Marque of monopolistic practices. That is despite MMs selling methods being largely dictated by government. Despite trading less than 50% of UK milk. Despite the major buyers being a handful of strong national, or multinational, companies.

If one of those dairies has now withdrawn from negotiations with its principal suppliers co-op, and instead is offering the farmers price cuts (temporary, smaller cuts if they leave their co-op and sell direct) where is the balance of power now?

When the MMB was scrapped by the last government, assurances were built in to prevent the bad old days before the board existed. Then dairies told farmers on the last day of the month that their milk would not be collected unless they accepted a lower price.

In the third week of September UK dairy farmers were informed of price cuts, from Oct 1. Is that any different?

Berkshire farmer

Name and address supplied.

MM – murder or suicide?

Murder by the state, or is it suicide? What kind of blarney has persuaded the government and Milk Marque that 19th century solutions are going to be appropriate for the new millennium?

Splitting up into three competing co-operatives while all around processors and retailers are merging into ever-larger units is defying economic gravity. Cries for investment in vertical integration are mistaken; it is too late. My family took that road 75 years ago. You dont see supermarkets investing downstream, only sideways. They stick to their last. Ex-farm milk prices have fallen by more than one-third in five years, while retail prices have remained constant. Who then are the beneficiaries? Governments might be expected to put consumer interests first. The Competition Commission seems to have been hunting the wrong quarry.

John Jenkin

Agricultural Consultant, 5B South Cliff Tower, Meads, Eastbourne, East Sussex.

Milk co-op beats adverts

The principles of advertising are quite simple: To get a return on your investment you need to either increase sales, or increase the price your customers will pay (preferably both).

UK dairy farmers cant increase their sales due to the quotas and if anyone thinks that the dairy companies are going to pass on any price increases they may get from the major retailers, they have not yet grasped the fact that the dairy companies have gained total control of the wholesale price of milk. Farmers have no free market to sell to.

Many farmers have been supporting generic advertising because they feel that we must do something. I put it to you that the "something" we should be doing is to invest in co-op-based processing so that we can sell our products to the retailers. Then advertising may actually pay.

I strongly urge all dairy farmers to vote against this tax. The only people sure to gain from it are those collecting and spending it.

Andy Clarke

Seamark Farm, Haighton Green Laane, Haighton, Preston, Lancs.

Too much glitz at dairy event

Although I congratulate the RABDF for staging a successful European Dairy Event, I came away with a single disturbing observation.

Manoeuvring through the busy trade stands under the covered area, I could not help noticing how many of them presented themselves in an excessive display of success. A lot were expensively constructed with bright lights, technological wizardry, colourful advertising and teaming with colour co-ordinated staff offering hospitality – all very welcoming to the beleaguered dairy farmer visitor.

But I wonder if this gave the right impression of an industry in crisis? It begs the question whether the supply industry is taking too much out of our recent meagre returns? Perhaps a more subdued and sober approach may have been more appropriate?

KC Grimsdell

Sycamore Farm, Raveningham, Norwich, Norfolk.

Foxes spread neosporosis

I read with interest your report from the Nottingham Cattle Fertility Conference on the significance of neosporosis as a cause of cattle abortions (Livestock, Sept 17).

In the report, transmission by dogs was cited as the possible missing link in the neosporosis life cycle.

I believe that foxes are more likely to be the main vector and the increase in their numbers has resulted in the high rate we are now seeing of neosporosis-related abortions.

John Bullock

Church Farm, Cotton, Stowmarket, Suffolk.

Subject G-Lime to thorough test

We were intrigued by the introduction of a new form of agricultural lime, G-Lime (Arable, Oct 1).

This product is described as granulated, compressed ground limestone, with the granules formed from limestone particles smaller than 100 microns. Granulation would give it the clear advantage of being spreadable by a farmers own spreader. The main reason for our interest is the claim that it is six times as effective as normal liming products, but that it costs approximately six times as much.

I would like to question the manufacturers claim that the fineness of the particles making up the granules give rise to this enhanced effectiveness.

The effectiveness of a liming material in raising the pH of a soil is related to application rate, fineness and neutralising value. G-Lime is made of ground limestone, and therefore the neutralising value will be between 50 and 55%, which is the same as other freely available and much cheaper products on the market.

A very fine ground liming material should provide fast correction of low pH because a relatively greater surface area is exposed to the soil in the short term.

However, slightly coarser grades of material will be subject to weathering and shattering and will therefore become fine over a period of time.

Therefore, very fine ground limestone is a quick release product, while slightly coarser grades or screened chalk, could be considered slower release products. Our own experience of spreading very finely ground limestone flour is that its effectiveness is relatively short lived, particularly where there is a fluctuating water table in the soil, allowing it all to be leached out in a year or two.

I have no doubt that Lafarge Redlands product will work, but my doubts are related to the claim of six times the effectiveness of alternative products.

The only way of properly assessing such a claim is to compare this product side-by- side with other liming materials over a period of at least five years, and on a range of soil types.

Mark Gillingham

The Courtyard Partnership

No evidence on G-Lime claim

As self-confessed lime suppliers and spreaders we read the article on G-Lime with interest (Arable, Oct 1).

Although we value FW reporting on industry developments, we were concerned that the article on G-Lime contained little supporting evidence for its claims.

The lime industry uses particle size and neutralising value (NV) to quantify lime quality. Conventional ground lime has to have 40% particles below 150, not 20% as stated. On further research, the NV of G-Lime is 54% the same as many ground limes.

Also no figure is allowed for the remainder of ground lime above 150. Admittedly, that takes time to become available, but does do so giving a slower release which enhances good soil management and therefore needs a value attributing to it for fair comparison.

So it is with renewed enthusiasm we go out to sell ground lime, after calculating its value against G-Lime.

Andrew and David Dutton

Ivy Cottage, Yorton Heath, Shrewsbury, Shropshire.

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Archive Article: 1999/10/15

15 October 1999

Peter Wastenage

Peter Wastenage, in partner-

ship with his parents, farms

a 121ha (300-acre) farm

tenanted from Clinton Devon

Estates. He milks 175 cows,

rears his own replacements

and is converting to organic

production

OUR maize was harvested in the last week of September, and now nearly two weeks later the grass seeds we normally put in straight afterwards are still in the bags as rain has fallen everyday since.

According to the weather forecast there are going to be three dry days coming up, which neatly coincides with me going to Ireland for a grazing study tour, so Im not sure if the grass seed will go in then.

Cow tracks, which were improved last month, have proved invaluable. Even with the horrendous weather, they have not suffered and have allowed access to all paddocks. Cows have come into milking without any mud on them or their udders; which makes us wonder why we didnt improve all our tracks years ago.

Milk Marque recently announced its plans to split into three. Although in many ways I think this is sad, I strongly believe it is the only way we can sell milk and develop farmer-owned milk processing successfully. Hopefully a better relationship will be made with customers and more money from processing will give farmers a more sustainable milk price.

I felt quite bitter at a Milk Marque meeting the other night, when grievances were voiced about some of the salaries being paid within the company. I strongly believe that if we are to have the best deal, we need some of the best representatives and hence must pay out proper salaries. When salaries are divided by the amount of total milk sold it must surely be cost-effective.

Last week my sister and I went to an interesting homeopathy meeting. We had a chance to test out some homeopathy soon after, when one of our goats was suffering severe bloat and hadnt responded to any treatment given.

Our vet came to visit and took one look at the goat and said "theres not a lot of hope for her". So out came our newly purchased book and pill chest, two pills and half an hour later she was perfectly normal and hasnt looked back since. We are now sceptical converts, when it comes to homeopathic medicine. &#42

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Archive Article: 1999/10/15

15 October 1999

Left: Boxing clever…

visitors enjoy bouncy boxing.

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Archive Article: 1999/10/15

15 October 1999

Good shot… a new event at this years event was the clay pigeon shooting. Experts showed visitors how to hold and use a gun correctly. Just a shame clay pigeons dont casserole well…

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Archive Article: 1999/10/15

15 October 1999

Right: Food for thought… cookery judges

Helen Greenwood

and Jill Blud ponder.

Winner in the senior

section was Meinir Jones, Carmarthenshire.

Ceredigion members

Iona Evans and Llinos Davies picked up top spot

in Intermediate and Junior classes respectively.

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Archive Article: 1999/10/15

15 October 1999

Farm inventions can become hard cash

Designing a new piece of farm equipment is no mean feat. You work late into the night in the workshop. You finally emerge, oily but triumphant.

Then the fun begins as you face the difficulties of marketing your brainchild.

And theres the perennial dilemma of whether any eventual sales will justify the big cheques needed to secure patents.

Surprisingly, despite all the obstacles, a fair few of the entrants in FWs Farm Inventions competition are turning their bright ideas into hard cash.

Would you like to join them? See page 74 for details.

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Archive Article: 1999/10/15

15 October 1999

A bird in the hand is certainly

worth two in the bush as

far as pigeon fanciers are

concerned. Tim Relf talked

to a farmer who has a

passion for the sport

IT took less than four hours to cover the 191 miles from Messac in France to the Isle of Wight.

Thats more than 50mph. Or, as pigeon fanciers put it, 1594 yards per minute.

This was the winner in the "old hen" section of the Central Southern Classic Flying Clubs recent race. Its destination was Ladyacre Farm, Niton, and stock farmer Trevor Willis was there waiting when it returned. That, he says, is the whole attraction of the sport. Why it is so exciting. "The thrill of getting the birds back – especially in tough conditions and on the longer races."

It can, of course, also be a frustrating pursuit. "When you see batches going over – and none of them come down to you," says Trevor.

The yearling bird, already old enough to be classed as an "old hen" beat off stiff competition to take first place, marking Trevors first win of the season. And the time could have been even better, he reckons. "It went round and round and round and didnt seem to want to come down – I probably lost five minutes."

The flight had begun at 8am, when 1300 young birds and 190 old hens were released at the French site. "Liberated," as the fanciers call it.

According to Catherine Cooper, press officer with the Club, a matter of seconds and its effect on the time over distance equation can make the difference between the winners and runners-up spot. "Horseracing can be won by a neck. In pigeon racing its by a decimal place."

Its the "adrenaline rush" thats at the heart of the sports popularity, says Peter Bryant, general manager of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association (RPRA). Its why, just before the expected time of the birds homecoming, the owners are completely absorbed. "Their palms sweating, total concentration, craning their necks to the sky looking for the pigeon."

Its also what makes it popular with people of all ages and backgrounds, he says. "But the image of the fancier is the flat cap-wearing working-class northerner."

The big challenge for the future, says Mr Bryant, is to encourage youngsters into the sport – which is easier said than done. "Its true of any activity or sport – unless its football or computing, you have your backs to the wall."

Winners in Central Southern Classic "young bird" class, meanwhile, were Mike and Linda Jarvis of Holbury, Southampton. Their bird – Consolation – covered 208 miles at a rate of 1594 yards per minute. "A pleasant surprise," says Mike. "I never expected to win."

For him, too, the magic is in seeing the birds return. "You send them away and they appear from nowhere out of the sky. Its marvellous."

Back on the Isle of Wight, meanwhile, Trevor Willis is still deliberating over what to call his as yet unnamed top-spot bird. "I suppose I had better give it a name now its won."

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