Archive Article: 2001/01/19 - Farmers Weekly

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Archive Article: 2001/01/19

19 January 2001

Sleeping tough…members of the Countryside Alliance sent out a defiant message to MPs during a three-day vigil in Parliament Square ahead of Wednesdays hunting vote. Farm minister Nick Brown said he would vote for a ban. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Blair passed the FW/Horse and Hound Hands off Hunting, Mr Blair petition to the Home Office saying it was not a matter for Downing Street.

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Archive Article: 2001/01/19

19 January 2001

Farming has changed a

lot since the 1930s, so

can comparisons

between the current

depression and the one

at that time really be


Is the current depression as bad as the 1930s? Many are saying it is. But few farmers operating today were doing so 70 years ago and realistic comparisons are distorted by memory, the passage of time and changes in monetary value.

Our forefathers also farmed differently, with real horsepower, real manpower, and not much technology.

East Anglian farm accountants Larking Gowen have addressed this in an interesting exercise. An anonymous client supplied them with an unbroken series of farm accounts from 1924 to the present. The firm has reviewed them, adjusted the results for inflation and created what must be a unique real-terms comparison of incomes for the farm in question.

In passing it is fascinating to note that in 1928 a Fordson tractor was bought for £130. It was sold in 1932 for £60 and, significantly, not replaced. In the 1931 accounts horses were valued at £19.7s.6d (£19.37) and cattle at £20. In 1926 barley sold for £1.15s a comb (£17.50/t). The following year the price dropped to £1.09 and by 1929 to 85p. A halving of grain values in three years feels familiar. But the farm lost money in only three years in the early 1930s.

To assess the value of incomes through the period inflation must be eliminated. On that basis there was a stuttering recovery up to 1939 when the Second World War led to a sharp rise. Through the war food shortages kept returns healthy and, although they tailed off, reasonable profits were made in most of the next 25 or so years. The main exceptions were caused by exceptional weather as in 1959 and 1963.

In 1973 Britain joined the EEC and in 1974 farm profits soared. That year also saw a massive rise in commodity prices, led by oil, and what came to be called the Great Grain Robbery when the Russians, who had had a disastrous harvest, tricked the Americans into selling them more grain than they had in stock. The world price trebled in the space of a few months. Wouldnt that be nice to see again?

Since the mid-1970s profits on the farm have declined sharply, until in 1987 and 1989 they were almost as low as in the early 1930s. The devaluation of sterling, when Britain left the exchange rate mechanism in 1992, brought about a remarkable recovery for a few years. More recently it was back to lean returns, although on the farm being reviewed not to the same loss-making levels as the 1930s. Not yet anyway, but they are still falling.

A true comparison between then and now is fraught with difficulties. For instance, the populations standard of living has increased and remains high. Farmers are part of society and cannot escape the social pressures that implies. Tax rules were different. In the early 1930s tax authorities did not try to tax farms because they expected losses. Most farmers lived off their land, killing a sheep or a pig now and then and growing their own vegetables. Today, much of what they did to survive would be illegal.

But eventually there were significant measures to help farmers. The Agricultural Mortgage Corporation was formed from a consortium of banks and supported by the government to provide credit for buying land whose price was on the floor. Marketing boards were launched for most main commodities leading to guaranteed markets for what farmers produced. And for sugar beet growers the British Sugar Corporation was formed. Partly government-owned, it amalgamated previously privately owned sugar factories under one management with guarantees of fair treatment to farmers.

These were real responses to the dire straits to which the farming industry had sunk. Whether they would have happened if Hitler had not threatened war is difficult if not impossible to tell. But without the recovery in food production, in which these measures played a crucial part, Britain might not have survived World War Two and the U-boat blockades of food convoys bringing produce from the empire anything like as well as it did. And the War Ag Committees, which, when it was over, were converted into the National Agricultural Advisory Service (later ADAS) as a free extension service for farmers, were the basis for much of the success of farming for many years.

Sadly there is no similar mood in government to help todays farmers out of the current depression. The main priority seems to be to cut farm aid, not increase it, with a deliberate objective of reducing production, importing more food and eliminating large chunks of domestic agriculture and employment. There is, of course, no sign of another world war – thank goodness.

So, UK farmers, it appears, will be left to take their chances in unequal competition with the rest of the world. At least, until the next disaster. For one day there will be one. It will cause major food shortages and price rises and self-sufficiency will once again become an issue. Maybe then our political masters will see the error of their ways. How sad for farmers and consumers that, unlike us, they cant see it coming.

UK farmers, it

appears, will be left to take their chances in unequal competition with the rest of the world. At least until the next disaster.

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Archive Article: 2001/01/19

19 January 2001

&#8226 OUTDOOR pig producers should review their disease security after the recent swine fever outbreak, says Cotswold. It advises that where a unit borders a road, track or footpath, double fencing should be erected, with a buffer zone between, so the distance from public areas to the pigs prevents sandwiches being thrown across. Prominent signs discouraging people from feeding stock should also be displayed, it adds.

&#8226 FIND out more about improving profits from suckler cows, feeding appropriately and better welfare at a series of ADAS meetings sponsored by MAFF. The free meetings will look at cow and calf nutrition, cow body condition, outwintering and controlling stress – all aimed at enhancing profitability without compromising health and welfare.

Meetings throughout England start on Jan 23, running to Feb 2. For more details contact Christine Jones at ADAS Cardiff (029-2089 9103).

&#8226 FIND out more about pig management through a new internet site ( The site includes basic information on production, a web index to other related sites, a research article database and a bulletin board. &#42

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Archive Article: 2001/01/19

19 January 2001

Miles Saunders

Miles Saunders farms with

his parents on an organic,

mixed 370ha (915 acre)

farm in Oxon. Main

enterprises are 230 milking

cows and followers, 270

Mule ewes, 50 beef cross

stores and 50 beef cross

calves. Winter wheat, barley,

oats and beans are grown

for the organic market

THE year 2000 will not be remembered by me for the best of reasons. Starting with a fall off my horse, causing a touch of concussion, followed by the theft of my Land Rover and trailer, with subsequent recovery, the spring was capped by my wife leaving for pastures new.

However, summer was reasonable and the hay was made in good weather. Plenty of silage was also made, although quality could have been better. Grain harvest was below average but the organic price held up well.

Lambs are doing well now, averaging £50 each. Cows are improving their milk yield to average 25 litres/day and they seem to be holding in calf quite well at 61% to first service.

The scraper tractor, a Ford 4000, was due for a major service just before Christmas with all four wheel bearings in need of replacement. Total effort was made to make sure that the tractor was ready for the Christmas period. The problem was that putting anti-freeze in all vehicles had not been completed before the freezing weather started. Fortunately all was well and we have now caught up.

The cold weather was welcome, but with it coming between Christmas and New Year we were unable use all of the days of frost.

Over the past year there have been 35 cull cows, which represents 16% of the herd. Nine cows were culled because of fertility problems and another nine for mastitis and high cell counts. Two cows went because of lameness and four others were casualties. One cow died of bloat although there were some close shaves with five other cows. Five others were culled for yield, lying in the passage and potential arthritis in two older cows.

The coming year should be exciting with the plan to increase the dairy to 300 cows. There are many hurdles to jump and the aim is to be in a position for efficient milk production for many years, hopefully producing organic milk. The prices are stable for a while which should enable the capital costs to be recovered fairly quickly. &#42

Having banished last years 2000 blues, Miles Saunders is looking forward to the challenge of expanding his organic dairy herd to 300 cows.

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Archive Article: 2001/01/19

19 January 2001

Christian Fox

Christian Fox manages 130

spring-calving cows and

followers, on a 200ha

(500 acre) mixed farm in

West Sussex, with 150ha

(380 acres) of arable crops.

He is aiming for high profits

and low costs by maximising

use of grazed grass

WITH no cows to milk, this month has been a time of preparation. We have made some minor tweaks to the parlour, including a thorough service.

Additional stall work at the cow entrance, creating a V should improve cow flow and draft cows better into one side or the other. I have also removed all the old, useless feeders and upgraded the teat spray, which used to be a dribble.

I was surprised to learn from our highly qualified parlour engineer, Richard Jones, that there is no UK standard for parlour servicing or qualification for an engineer.

Milking plants run for more hours a year than most tractors and are more expensive to replace. I wonder how happy we would be if every time a tractor was serviced the filters might be changed or they might not.

As our forage rape crop looks as though it has been napalmed, I am resorting to feeding an old pit of vintage 1997 silage that was lurking around; it is actually very good dry cow food. Nevertheless, this is the last of the old silage and I cannot afford such a pathetic crop next winter as it will be all we will have to feed the cows. Any ideas on better ways to grow rape or turnips on a postcard please.

My 25 thin cows, or Holsteins as you might call them, are enjoying the luxury of their indoor accommodation and silage/gluten diet. They are starting to gain weight, but at a price. Given that they will cost nearly £50/head to fatten – excluding slurry and labour – I could put them on the OTMS and trade up to an Ayrshire or Jersey heifer for similar money.

I have been asked to give a talk on my farming system to the south-east region Holstein Society. And I was doing so well at not upsetting people this year.

An item of late breaking news before I go, I have just leased out £450 worth of quota. The same volume last year was worth about £6500. I only hope that over the next 12 months we can see quota off altogether, the last bastion of communist farming and a tax on the young and dynamic. &#42

Christian Fox is looking for advice on growing a good crop of forage rape or turnips, having had to resort to feeding his cows 1997 silage.

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Archive Article: 2001/01/19

19 January 2001

&#8226 SAD to see the back of your Christmas tree? 24,000 of them are up for grabs – included as part of a seven-acre plot near Hereford. The trees have been professionally managed by Festive Forestry.

According to director Mike Knight, up to 10,000 of the Norway spruce will be ready by next Christmas. A 4ft tree is worth about £3 wholesale. Mr Knight has not set a price for the land but will consider "any reasonable offer".

&#8226 KNIGHT Frank reports the successful sale of Hafodneddyn in Camarthenshire. The 375-acre unit, which includes a spring water bottling business, achieved in excess of the £1.1m guide.

&#8226 GUSTERSON Palmer is marketing three blocks of land in Worcs. The prime lot is 41 acres of irrigated light loam one mile from Pershore.

The land, which is suitable for vegetable production, is guided at £3000-£4000/acre.

Two blocks, the majority of which are IACS-registered, are available near Broadway at £2500/acre. One runs to 219 acres and includes a 900t grain store, the other is 94 acres. The firms Michael Palmer says interest is keen from neighbouring farmers.

&#8226 TWO specialist equestrian units complete with menages are available. FPDSavills have just launched Crepping Hall Farm, Wakes Colne, Essex. The 45-acre equestrian unit includes a floodlit menage and is available for in the region of £580,000. Woolley and Wallis are offering the Highfield Farm Equestrian Centre near Salisbury for about £350,000.

&#8226 DREWEATT Neatte have created a dedicated farms buying department. Based in Newbury, the new venture is headed by Ben Hudson.

The service was created in response to continued client demand.

"Our extensive network of agents allows us to tap into property that is not available on the open market," says Mr Hudson. He adds that the firm has up to 20 fully retained clients at any one time.

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Archive Article: 2001/01/19

19 January 2001

DOWNTOWN Vimoutiers surprised everyone this year by installing an

ice-skating rink in the

Halle au Beurre.

Open every day including Christmas Day especially for families, at 10 francs an hour (including the hire of skates) no-one could complain. Apparently there had been grumbles about the large investment but every time we went it was busy

so I hope it has paid for itself and that they do the same next year.

Just two Santas were seen trying to break into the Credit Agricole Bank. Previous years have seen an invasion of red and white life-size Santas climbing lamp-posts, hanging from balconies and even climbing the church steeple. The

first year they appeared we counted 22, indubitably

a job lot off the back

of a lorry…

Have we had a good Christmas? You betcha.

I think in the company of ex-pats we must be party-people, or is it a little

hankering for tradition that leads us, en-masse, every year to Michael and Mary Coohs to sit around their gigantic table (which can hold up to 30) where we have a typically English Christmas tea of salmon

and cucumber sandwiches, sausage rolls and mince pies before piling into the sitting room to sing carols round the piano. Whatever the

reason we always enjoy

ourselves and fall into

festive mode tout de suite.

The Cheshire Greens (Jiggles and Al, Lyndsay and Nic) arrived on the Saturday just in time to get dolled up, 60s style, for a swinging party at Deb and Josss (farming dairy cows and B & B just outside Gaie).

This included lots of silly games such as "feel the knees to find the wife whilst blindfolded" which got them all guessing when Tim, dressed in shorts as his bell-bottomed loons no

longer fit, joined the row

of female knees!

Cherry had a double Christmas – going home with boyfriend Fred to

celebrate with his family French-style on Christmas Eve, then bringing Fred back to open stockings here on Christmas morning. Neither of them were

particularly hungry after their reveillon of oysters, snails, salmon and ostrich steaks – I cant think why. Freds first experience of opening a stocking was quite impressive – it isnt a French tradition.

The week rolled on with aperitifs at friends in town with a murder mystery

supper to follow where we had to dress the part. Arriving at Brigittes for drinks first, we were very apologetic for turning up ridiculously dressed, but I started to worry when her daughter Audrey said we didnt look disguised (I was going as a lap dancer).

New Years Eve saw us preparing for two events. Beth and her friends (about 16) had a sit-down do in the lounge while we had a

dinner for 15 in the dining room. This culminated in a frantically-rehearsed

rendition of You Dont Own Me performed by Jiggles and me, emphatically

dedicated to our husbands – the brothers not so Grimm as Green. (Eat your heart out Goldie Hawn.)

It all bodes well for the rest of the New Year.

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