5 March 1999

FAIRTRADE DEALS MUST INCLUDE HARD-PRESSED BRITISH FARMERS TOO

Milk group mergers give farming strength

News that five milk groups are to merge is welcome, especially in a week when Milk Marque is yet again struggling to maintain farm milk prices.

For too long, buyers have been getting bigger and stronger, while farmers remain weak and divided. With other groups too small to affect the market Milk Marque has stood alone in defence of farm-gate prices.

At last the mood is changing. Admittedly, newcomer United Milk will control only about 6% of UK supplies. But it is a step in the right direction. It could be the catalyst needed to trigger other mergers, giving Milk Marque much-needed allies to help safeguard producer returns.

Strobs full of promise but be wary in field

Strobilurin fungicides promise cereal growers much. And given the current hard times every penny of extra profit needs squeezing from them.

But with just one year of commercial experience that will not be easy. Triazole products have been used for 15 years and are still not fully understood.

Waiting until the year 2014 before strobs are used as efficiently as triazoles is clearly not an option. So it is good to see extensive trials putting the new chemistry through its paces.

The caution for this season must be to check advice is robust and substantiated. Acting on one year results can be risky. So beware of inappropriate recommendations from over-eager consultants.

Producers in dark over dip disposal rules

Are you grappling with new Environment Agency forms for on-farm sheep dip disposal?

It is no joke filling out a seven page application form, paying at least £84 for an initial licence fee and an annual charge of £100.

But the chief concern is that the Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions has yet to finalise guidance notes to help producers complete applications.

Given DETRs stance on unlicensed disposal that is tough to take. Farms that have not applied for a licence by Mar 31 will have to await an on-site inspection before disposing of dip. That process could take months to accomplish.

Once again sheep producers seem to be bearing the brunt of inefficient government.

Milling protein tests need explanation

Milling wheat proteins tested after Sept 1 this year will nearly all exceed last years levels.

But that will be due to a change in the way they are measured, rather than any wonder product or miraculous agronomy advice.

The worry is that the change makes direct comparisons between the old and new system tricky. That could cause considerable confusion and lead to additional price penalties.

The milling industry should explain the changes and make clear statements on the way fallbacks will be calculated. Failure to do so could see tempers rise way beyond boiling point when grain is being sold.

No one will stand up to seas sure advance

Farming along Englands coast can be a challenge. But when your land is slipping into the sea and no-one takes responsibility to halt coastal erosion the future can look exceptionally bleak.

In north Norfolk, where the sea is encroaching at a rate of 10m/year, farmland is disappearing fast.

The local council says it cannot afford the £ millions needed to halt the seas advance. And the Environment Agency says it will get involved only if low-lying land is at risk.

How much more productive land, and with it farming livelihoods, will be sacrificed before such buck-passing stops?

FABBL checks must have sharper teeth

A tweak is usually less painful than a radical overhaul and can be more successful. But is that the case with Farm Assured British Beef and Lamb?

Spot checks on 10% of FABBL members and more time on-farm for stock bought from non-assured units are steps in the right direction.

But is a spot check a spot check when 14 days notice is given? And how does 20 extra days on-farm make stock more assured?

Tougher teeth are needed if this scheme is to command the respect and credibility needed for farmers to really benefit in the market.