20 November 1998

Dont stay silent when under stress

With respect to Keith Evans and John Armitages letters (Nov 6), the answer to farmers and their families suffering stress is to seek help. It is more readily available than some realise.

In Shropshire, the Rural Stress Support Network is active in helping rural dwellers find the emotional and practical support they need. The growth in support groups on the mainland may partly explain the difference in attitude to seeking help found in an on-going survey of farmers in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

In this study, undertaken at Harper Adams, British farmers were less likely to feel they must suffer in silence and more likely to admit the need for help. Perhaps, as Keith suggests, the message is getting through and the taboos are being broken down. But an alarming number, in both communities, are still reluctant to admit the need for counselling. The difference in attitude to seeking help was particularly encouraging since the survey also showed that farmers in GB are more likely than their Northern Ireland counterparts to feel stressed and isolated from their local community as conflicts arise with incomers.

Alison Monk

Senior lecturer in Agricultural Economics, Harper Adams University College, Newport, Shropshire.

MAFF probing cattle TB cause

I would like to correct the suggestion in your leader (Opinion, Oct 30) and in the accompanying article (News) that my department has dismissed trace element deficiency as a possible contributory factor for TB incidents in cattle. The work on badger livers mentioned is being carried out at MAFF expense at MAFF laboratories. As with any research, the results need to be subject to scientific scrutiny to ensure they are reliable before being made public. The results of the tests are being collated, and once they have been peer reviewed we expect to publish them. We will also assess them to see if more focused research in this area is warranted.

The article also reported our pilot study of TB risk factors which is starting this month. The questions to be asked cover nutrition, and specifically trace element deficiency, and will also provide valuable information in this area.

Jeff Rooker MP

MAFF, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London.

Pork profit at welfare expense

I note that Nick Brown is not prepared to interfere in the profit-making decisions of the contracted caterers who supply MAFFs 14 canteens (News, Nov 6). Mr Brown says they are entitled to buy the cheapest pork on the market.

He is nevertheless prepared to interfere by implementing strict animal welfare legislation unilaterally on UK pig farmers that ensures we are uncompetitive compared with the rest of Europe and are unable to match their lower pork prices.

Has he insisted that the pork served by the canteens comes from pig herds which are not tethered or in stalls?

Mr Coggan

The Arches, Terminus Terrace, Southampton, Hants.

EMU will be a straitjacket

For Robert Gooch to claim (Business, Nov 6) that there would be no loss of sovereignty inured by transferring control of our economy to the European Central Bank is nonsense.

The British government has the power to appoint or dismiss both the governor of the Bank of England and the members of the monetary policy committee. This committee has a mandate to act in the best interests of the British economy and its minutes are made public.

On entering the Euro zone we will have one seat on the ECB, which will meet in secret, and have no particular regard for our interest. A significant portion of our gold reserves will be transferred to Frankfurt, to be held hostage should we wish to withdraw from EMU.

The economic straight jacket imposed by EMU will cause serious regional difficulties, and to rescue the Euro from collapse the EU will demand emergency powers to centralise tax collection and administration.

Progress towards a single socialist European state takes a giant leap forward on Jan 1.

Eric Clark

Manor Farm, Chapel Lane, Minting, Horncastle, Lincs.

Scotch beef mark-up crazy

I have just returned from Sainburys branch at The Kingsway in Derby. Astonishingly, the price of prepacked, cooked, assured Scotch beef was £23.41/ kg.

How can that be justified when farmers receive only 80p/ kg? Even taking into account the cost of cooking and packing, a price hike of this magnitude is impossible to explain.

Helen Screaton

Brook Farm, Ingleby Lane, Milton, Derbys.

Lost chance to study crimping

I was pleased to read about your interest in on-farm crimping of home-grown feeds (Livestock, Nov 6). But to infer that this interest is being generated solely on farms is incorrect. Almost 18 months ago, we submitted a research proposal to MDC to consider the evaluation of on-farm crimped grains. Despite two positive reports from external referees, it was considered by an MDC adviser to be an issue of local interest only in the south west. So the proposal was rejected.

I regret this decision as it was a missed opportunity to capitalise on the on-farm production of high quality feeds at affordable prices with full product traceability.

When has the industry needed more help in such areas than it does today? To date we have crimped peas, rape, soya and maize with no regrets. And there will be more to follow.

David E Beever.

Director, CEDAR, Department of Agriculture, The University of Reading, Earley Gate, Reading.

Time to end access warfare

Roger Juggins Talking Point (Nov 6) got it wrong. It is the public, whether on foot or horseback, which have lost thousands of miles of public highway over the years. Through default and design, powerful landowners and lazy authorities have allowed hundreds of ancient highways to be lost to the public.

During the definitive map process, landowners had two chances to object, at the provisional and draft stages, while the public only had one chance. As a rider concerned about our old riding routes, I feel the system is weighted against the public and for the landowner. Speaking as a landowner, it is time we ended this warfare and showed more benevolence to those less fortunate than ourselves.

We live in an overcrowded island and must learn to share the countryside. Bearing in mind, dismally low farm prices for food products, Mr Juggins would be more constructively employed lobbying government for paid-for access. That is what the public wants.

Catriona Cook

British Horse Society, access officer, Burgate Farm, Harwood Dale, Scarborough, Yorks.

Right to roam not conceded

Your report (News, Nov 6) regarding the Access Forums report was in part correct and part not. The SLF has not conceded a right to roam as your

Dont stay silent when under stress

With respect to Keith Evans and John Armitages letters (Nov 6), the answer to farmers and their families suffering stress is to seek help. It is more readily available than some realise.

In Shropshire, the Rural Stress Support Network is active in helping rural dwellers find the emotional and practical support they need. The growth in support groups on the mainland may partly explain the difference in attitude to seeking help found in an on-going survey of farmers in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

In this study, undertaken at Harper Adams, British farmers were less likely to feel they must suffer in silence and more likely to admit the need for help. Perhaps, as Keith suggests, the message is getting through and the taboos are being broken down. But an alarming number, in both communities, are still reluctant to admit the need for counselling. The difference in attitude to seeking help was particularly encouraging since the survey also showed that farmers in GB are more likely than their Northern Ireland counterparts to feel stressed and isolated from their local community as conflicts arise with incomers.

Alison Monk

Senior lecturer in Agricultural Economics, Harper Adams University College, Newport, Shropshire.

MAFF probing cattle TB cause

I would like to correct the suggestion in your leader (Opinion, Oct 30) and in the accompanying article (News) that my department has dismissed trace element deficiency as a possible contributory factor for TB incidents in cattle. The work on badger livers mentioned is being carried out at MAFF expense at MAFF laboratories. As with any research, the results need to be subject to scientific scrutiny to ensure they are reliable before being made public. The results of the tests are being collated, and once they have been peer reviewed we expect to publish them. We will also assess them to see if more focused research in this area is warranted.

The article also reported our pilot study of TB risk factors which is starting this month. The questions to be asked cover nutrition, and specifically trace element deficiency, and will also provide valuable information in this area.

Jeff Rooker MP

MAFF, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London.

Pork profit at welfare expense

I note that Nick Brown is not prepared to interfere in the profit-making decisions of the contracted caterers who supply MAFFs 14 canteens (News, Nov 6). Mr Brown says they are entitled to buy the cheapest pork on the market.

He is nevertheless prepared to interfere by implementing strict animal welfare legislation unilaterally on UK pig farmers that ensures we are uncompetitive compared with the rest of Europe and are unable to match their lower pork prices.

Has he insisted that the pork served by the canteens comes from pig herds which are not tethered or in stalls?

Mr Coggan

The Arches, Terminus Terrace, Southampton, Hants.

EMU will be a straitjacket

For Robert Gooch to claim (Business, Nov 6) that there would be no loss of sovereignty inured by transferring control of our economy to the European Central Bank is nonsense.

The British government has the power to appoint or dismiss both the governor of the Bank of England and the members of the monetary policy committee. This committee has a mandate to act in the best interests of the British economy and its minutes are made public.

On entering the Euro zone we will have one seat on the ECB, which will meet in secret, and have no particular regard for our interest. A significant portion of our gold reserves will be transferred to Frankfurt, to be held hostage should we wish to withdraw from EMU.

The economic straight jacket imposed by EMU will cause serious regional difficulties, and to rescue the Euro from collapse the EU will demand emergency powers to centralise tax collection and administration.

Progress towards a single socialist European state takes a giant leap forward on Jan 1.

Eric Clark

Manor Farm, Chapel Lane, Minting, Horncastle, Lincs.

Scotch beef mark-up crazy

I have just returned from Sainburys branch at The Kingsway in Derby. Astonishingly, the price of prepacked, cooked, assured Scotch beef was £23.41/ kg.

How can that be justified when farmers receive only 80p/ kg? Even taking into account the cost of cooking and packing, a price hike of this magnitude is impossible to explain.

Helen Screaton

Brook Farm, Ingleby Lane, Milton, Derbys.

Lost chance to study crimping

I was pleased to read about your interest in on-farm crimping of home-grown feeds (Livestock, Nov 6). But to infer that this interest is being generated solely on farms is incorrect. Almost 18 months ago, we submitted a research proposal to MDC to consider the evaluation of on-farm crimped grains. Despite two positive reports from external referees, it was considered by an MDC adviser to be an issue of local interest only in the south west. So the proposal was rejected.

I regret this decision as it was a missed opportunity to capitalise on the on-farm production of high quality feeds at affordable prices with full product traceability.

When has the industry needed more help in such areas than it does today? To date we have crimped peas, rape, soya and maize with no regrets. And there will be more to follow.

David E Beever.

Director, CEDAR, Department of Agriculture, The University of Reading, Earley Gate, Reading.

Time to end access warfare

Roger Juggins Talking Point (Nov 6) got it wrong. It is the public, whether on foot or horseback, which have lost thousands of miles of public highway over the years. Through default and design, powerful landowners and lazy authorities have allowed hundreds of ancient highways to be lost to the public.

During the definitive map process, landowners had two chances to object, at the provisional and draft stages, while the public only had one chance. As a rider concerned about our old riding routes, I feel the system is weighted against the public and for the landowner. Speaking as a landowner, it is time we ended this warfare and showed more benevolence to those less fortunate than ourselves.

We live in an overcrowded island and must learn to share the countryside. Bearing in mind, dismally low farm prices for food products, Mr Juggins would be more constructively employed lobbying government for paid-for access. That is what the public wants.

Catriona Cook

British Horse Society, access officer, Burgate Farm, Harwood Dale, Scarborough, Yorks.

Right to roam not conceded

Your report (News, Nov 6) regarding the Access Forums report was in part correct and part not. The SLF has not conceded a right to roam as your headline incorrectly suggested.

The SLF welcomes the publication of the advice from the Access Forum to SNH on access to the countryside. We regard access as an extremely important issue, and have participated fully in the forum appreciating the opportunity for reasoned and forthright discussion.

The forum has said there should be a "right of access to land and water exercised with responsibility for informal recreation and passage". Nowhere is there a mention of a right to roam. We are pleased that the hard work of the individuals within the forum has achieved a consensus and we will be discussing this package in depth with our members.

In taking forward proposals to the Scottish Parliament it is important that public access is properly planned and managed and is integrated with other land use activities. Legislation must be balanced with equal responsibilities on providers, users and facilitators and there must be appropriate funding for access when any future legislation is enacted.

I welcome the forthright statement from the Ramblers Association Scotland where it acknowledges that any right of access should be exercised responsibly as part of a balanced package which introduces clear rights and responsibilities for those who enjoy and those who manage the countryside.

As the body representing those who own land we must keep our members interests foremost in our minds at all times. However as an active and enthusiastic member of the Access Forum, SLF welcomes the opportunity to participate in the access debate and the taking forward of the package proposed.

Andrew Dingwall-Fordyce

Convenor, Scottish Landowners Federation, 25 Maritime Street, Edinburgh.

SLF not for the right to roam

Your article (News, Oct 6) on the Scottish Landowners Federation backing a right to roam is inaccurate. In a letter to the editor of The Herald, which ran the story, the chairman of the SLF said: "The SLF has not conceded a right to roam, as your headline suggested, nor backed a legal right to roam which was stated in the article itself."

The CLA understands that the Scottish Access Forum is proposing to include the existing access concordant in new legislation because Scottish law does not provide a sensible nor marketable foundation for providing people with greater freedoms to enjoy the countryside.

The CLA proposal to improve and increase access through voluntary management agreements provides a sensible and acceptable foundation for England and Wales. Whatever the outcome of the Scottish Access Forum proposals, it will not undermine the strength and soundness of the CLAs submission to the government.

Ian MacNicol

President, Country Landowners Association, 16 Belgrave Square, London.

Not so cautious with cultivation

Soil conditions are important considerations in cultivation choice, as Bryan Davies (Letters, Oct 30) points out. Flexibility to take account of changing conditions is desirable in any cultivation system. But we could shoot ourselves in the foot if we go too far down the road towards his field-by-field approach to cultivations. Reducing costs is more important than ever. In my experience, keeping all cultivation options open is not the best recipe for reducing machinery costs. Nor is it the best way to prevent needless cultivation. After all, we could find ourselves the proud owners of costly extra tillage tackle of which we do not make the best use.

We do not need to keep our cultivation options open because of grass weed fears. In many years of advising growers, the only situation I have found in which weed pressure makes modern reduced tillage systems difficult is continuous winter wheat with resistant blackgrass. In other situations a well-planned minimum cultivation system can tackle grass weeds better than traditional ploughing.

Neither should we be put off reduced tillage by fears about wet conditions. Cutting the time needed for cultivating means we have a lower wet weather risk. If we have got more time to play with we can afford to stay off the land when it is too wet and drill our crops in time. Also the fewer passes by heavy machinery reduces the danger of causing harmful compaction.

I agree we should be careful in adopting minimum cultivation systems and introduce them into rotations only over several seasons on the basis of good advice. But we cant afford to be so cautious that we achieve little other than a bigger machinery bill. Otherwise we will defeat the object of the exercise.

Steve Townsend

Economic crop systems specialist SRTOWN@aol.com

Stand up to biotech firms

As the genetically modified crops debate hots up, I was interested to note the comments (Arable, Nov 6) of Friederick Vogel, head of BASFs crop protection. He stated that farmers will be given just enough to keep them interested in growing the crops while most of the benefits of any added value will go to food processors and retailers and no doubt his own firm.

There was no mention of supposed benefits through the reduced use of pesticides or of providing new ways of feeding a growing world population. If farmers are worried about the power supermarkets wield; look out because that will be nothing compared with the power of firms producing genetically modified seeds. They will control what and where you plant crops, what pesticides you can and cannot use, where you sell your crop and how much you pay for inputs. Even home-saving seed will be a thing of the past.

These crops may be suited to the prairies of North America but in a country such as ours, with its huge diversity of plants and wildlife, growing such crops will create a countryside devoid of its natural wildlife. We will suffer crops and plants containing labels stating which company owns the patent on them.

Worse may come in the shape of superbugs which attack genetically modified plants and, according to reports from North America, have no natural predators. Also from Australia there have been several cases of Roundup resistance in plants.

It is time our government stood up to the biotech companies and introduced a ban on the growing of genetically modified crops for at least the next 10 years. By then we will know exactly how safe they really are.

Robert Stacey

Tinsleys Farm, Blind Lane, West Hanningfield, Nr Chelmsford, Essex.

Biomass crops attract grants

Regarding your article "Cash incentive call for biomass crops" (Arable, Oct 30), I would like to clarify the position on grant assistance available for establishing short-rotation coppice. Biomass grower Stephen Rash of Wortham, Suffolk, called for more government help to establish biomass crops to fuel the proposed power station at the old Eye Airfield.

Landowners may be eligible to receive grants from the Forestry Commissions Woodland Grant Scheme of £400/ha for establishing short rotation coppice crops on set-aside as part of the arable area payments scheme and £600 is available on non set-aside. SRC can be grown on non-rotational set-aside land and farmers could find the guaranteed set-aside arrangements attractive for such crops.

In referring to the Farm Woodland Scheme administered by the Forestry Commission, Suffolk Biomass Power director Gerry Swarbrick probably meant to refer to the WGS.

The old Farm Woodland Scheme was administered in England by MAFF but is no longer available to new entrants. It has been replaced by the Agricultural Departments Farm Woodland Premium Scheme which makes annual payments in compensation for agricultural income foregone from farmland converted to woodland. The FWPS does not pay establishment grants for tree planting and is not available for SRC.

The Forestry Commission welcomes enquiries from farmers and landowners who are interested in growing short-rotation coppice and claiming grant assistance for it.

Those with potential sites within about 50 miles of the proposed Eye power station should contact the Commission at the address below or phone 01394-450214.

Brian Easton

Forestry Commission, East England Conservancy, Santon Downham, Brandon, Suffolk.

Pulse levy helps competitiveness

It was good to see your support for home-grown protein and to note the innovative use of peas and soya in the dairy rations of Robert Adams (Livestock, Nov 6).

Despite the attention given to a wide range of niche markets, the UK livestock industry is the major user of home-produced pulses. We are anxious to work closely with the livestock sector to ensure that home produced grain legumes are competitive with other sources of vegetable protein.

Through our pulse levy we have funded a wide range of investigations to improve the field performance of all types of peas and beans, including the NIAB Recommended List series of variety traits.

Additionally, we have recently studied the value of pea straw and work is being funded at NIAB and SAC on the protein content of a range of pea and field bean varieties.

Levy funded projects are approved by an expert industry panel. We would welcome ideas and suggestions for research and development work from the livestock sector, particularly if they could be linked with new ideas on usage.

G P Gent

PGRO, The Research Station, Great North Road, Thornhaugh, Peterborough, Cambs.