6 August 1999

Bungling safe thieves set fire to field of crops

MORE than 200 square yards of crops have been destroyed in a blaze which started after thieves tried to open a stolen safe by setting fire to it.

Fire crews and police were called to the wheat field fire at Tinwell, Rutland, at 5am last Friday and found the safe burning close to a hedgerow. The blaze had taken hold of the partially-harvested crop, forcing the thieves to flee.

A fire service spokesman said: "They had hidden the safe from view behind a hedgerow, and then the silly beggars had used straw from the field to try to set the safe alight. The safe did burn, but was not destroyed by the blaze.

"The thieves were very lucky because there was no wind at the time and there was dew on the ground. Otherwise it could really have spread, and been very nasty."

As FW went to Press (Weds), police were still trying to locate where the safe had been stolen from, and what it contained. &#42

Eclipse spotters a threat, warns NFU

By John Burns

EMERGENCY plans are being put in place in south-west England to ensure the predicted arrival of thousands of eclipse-spotters and their vehicles causes as little disruption as possible to farm businesses.

The NFU has set up a round-the-clock Eclipse Helpline (0374-626 341), which will operate until Fri, Aug 13.

Co-ordinator Mike Ellingham said members had been warned to safeguard crops from damage by trespassers, especially fire damage. But there could be a wide range of emergencies. "We have round-the-clock access to the appropriate agencies to get things sorted," he said.

Firms like Cornwall Farmers have encouraged producers to order inputs in time for delivery well before Wednesdays solar eclipse.

And Milk Marque has already switched to collecting milk at night from farms in areas most likely to affected by eclipse-related traffic, and will continue to do so next week. Movement of grain in Cornwall and parts of Devon around the date of the eclipse is expected to be somewhere between difficult and impossible.

Mike Hambly of Cornwall Farmers said: "No one dare have a boat into Plymouth that week in case they cant fill it because of the traffic. So we lose a weeks potential exports off the combine apart from local difficulties on the roads moving grain from field to farm stores."

But attempts by Cornish farmers co-op Kernow Grain to avoid the expected traffic chaos have been wrecked by Restormel District Council planners who refused any temporary extension of the 8am to 8pm hours the store is allowed to operate.

The firm had asked to be allowed to haul grain in and out during the night when the roads could be expected to be less crowded with visitors. Chairman, John Moss, said: "It was a contingency plan in case the traffic got snarled up. But the planners dont see it like that. There arent enough agriculturally-minded people on the council to give us support." &#42

Badger campaign start

SEMI-RETIRED farmer Bill Groves has started his annual campaign for compensation for crops damaged by badgers, or powers to control badger numbers.

His 6.5ha (16 acres) of wheat on the edge of Othery, Somerset, has once again been severely damaged by badgers rolling in it.

Mr Groves estimates 1ha (2.5 acres) or more has been flattened and says it is unfair that he should be powerless to control the badgers, which do not even live on his land.

"How can a thing like this be allowed in this country? If I went in someones wheat and rolled all over it I would be prosecuted. All we hear about is badgers and TB. Well, crop damage by badgers is also a serious problem," he insists.

Mr Groves has campaigned for years, and has twice written to the Queen seeking her help. "The Queen passed my letters to MAFF, but they did not have anything useful to offer. I might just write to her again, perhaps it will be third time lucky. Perhaps she will ask Prince Charles if he has any ideas. He seems to understand the need to control pests," he said. &#42

GM segregation on WTO agenda

SEGREGATING genetically modified food, and the implications for UK agriculture of the next round of World Trade Organisation talks are two of the subjects to be addressed by parliaments agriculture select committee later this year.

The cross-party House of Commons committee has announced that its programme for the autumn will start with the question of how to make sure GM products can be kept segregated at every stage of the food chain.

And, with WTO talks due to begin at the end of the year, the committee will then focus on specific issues including animal welfare and the implications of scientific disputes. To this end, it has asked for evidence to be submitted on battery cages and hormones in beef.

After the release of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission milk report, the committee is also to investigate the implications of trade minister, Stephen Byers, decisions on the future of milk marketing.

The committee announced back in May it would be holding an inquiry, but decided to wait until after the report was released before taking evidence. &#42