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Kevin Littleboy

2 August 2002

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

SOME people rudely suggest I should see a shrink and it is amazing what they will do to make this happen.

Recently, I had to leave a fund-raising barbecue early because I spotted a hot air balloon rapidly descending towards my farm. On arrival I found it had landed in my Siberia barley, next to an 80m x 400m set-aside strip. The pilot was fined £550, not unreasonable for the offences committed, I thought: interrupting a party; missing my set-aside by 10m; and, you guessed it, being a shrink.

On a serious note, a timely tip to all about tractors and road traffic. Unfortunately, we have been involved in two road accidents involving tractors. The first involved a car which, on braking, skidded across the road and smashed the tractors front axle. The second was a van, travelling too fast, which took its wing mirror off on the front wheel of a tractor pulling out of a junction.

Both have been protracted cases, one ending recently at Darlington County Court precisely 2 years, 364 days, 23.30 hours after the incident. The main reasons we won both cases was that I took photographs of the scene, measured the skid marks, and made notes on the point of impact etc. at the time. All our vehicles now carry disposable cameras for any future incident.

I suggest you do the same and should an accident happen, as well as photographing the scene, do something I forgot to do – take a picture of the driver of the other vehicle.

My thanks to NFU Mutual Insurance for their perseverance in both cases and to Russells of Boroughbridge for rebuilding the tractor so quickly.

Hang on! I dont believe it! Here comes another balloon… John Stables of Blue Sky Balloons of Knaresborough has just landed on a 20m wide set-aside strip missing the crop, hedges and trees. Most impressive, I cant even fine him, as under IACS rules we are not allowed financial payments on set-aside. He obviously knows the rules. Damn. &#42

Keep a disposable camera in the tractor cab in case of road traffic accidents – it could provide vital evidence, says Kevin Littleboy.

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Kevin Littleboy

5 July 2002

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

IT is that time of the year again and my most meaningful relationship has begun. I am once again married to the Irritator and isnt it well named. I curse, shout and swear at it and it doesnt do what I want and has a mind of its own – par for the course really.

At Cereals 2002 I was bemused by the trade alliance announced by CPBTwyford and Grainfarmers co-op. They have set up a 15t/ha (6t/acre) club challenge. May I ask what is wrong with arable farmers in the north, especially, of course, Yorkshire? DEFRA production statistics usually show that Yorkshire and Humberside have the highest yield. I suppose someone has to bring the southern wheat growers up to Yorkshire standards, so congratulations to CPBs John Blackman, you have a formidable task ahead.

Farming can no longer be accused of being staid and old-fashioned as at Cereals there were flashes of pink everywhere. Very worrying I would suggest. After disclosing all your details to Bayer at Cereals, they very kindly gave you a "pink umbrella". When I said to a member of Bayers staff: "If you think I am walking about with that pink thing you must be off your trolley," I saw two farmers look down at their newly acquired umbrellas, shake their head, then lean them against the tent and walk away, much to my amusement.

Also at Cereals I became acutely aware that I must have become a tad fatter around the midriff. On visiting various stands and being offered a drink or two, I was promptly handed "diet" cokes. So much for wooing ones future customers.

The Great Yorkshire Show, the best English agricultural show, takes place on July 9-11 at Harrogate. A must-attend event for all northern farmers and associated industries and the general public will be entertained to the best of Yorkshire hospitality. Sheep are included for all three days, something the society has gone to enormous lengths to make possible and to the benefit of all the industry. &#42

Kevin Littleboy is married to the Irritator again, but at least it hasnt offered him a diet coke.

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Kevin Littleboy

7 June 2002

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

MY attempts to submit my IACS electronically have been an experience.

Personally, I do not think anybody could dream up a more complicated system of communicating information, especially as the Rural Payments Agency is only 10 miles down the road from here at Northallerton.

When "President" Blair met Bill Gates of Microsoft at 10 Downing Street, we were told that there was an overriding need to get the country online. The Cabinet Office duly set up a department called E-envoy encompassing the dreaded Government Gateway (GG). It is the centralised registration service for e-government services in the UK, yet it does not even support Microsofts Internet Explorer 6.

We received a letter dated Mar 4 requesting us to submit our IACS electronically. So I tried the GG and on Mar 15 I got a very impressive e-mail from the Cabinet Office saying my PIN number would be with me in three days. If it did not arrive within seven days I was told to ring e-IACS. Needless to say, it didnt arrive.

On Apr 17, instructions from the GG asked me to enrol again. Again the procedure failed. On Apr 23 I received the same instruction, yet again it failed to accept me. The next day I was instructed to go online, delete and then re-enter all my details. Still no PIN number to allow me to proceed with my IACS application online.

My PIN number eventually arrived on May 7, the day I handed in my paper version having completely lost patience in the electronic system. I cannot praise the professionalism and perseverance shown by the e-IACS team at Northallerton throughout this fiasco, especially Ian Windress, who had to put up with my particular case. They were given an inadequate and ill thought out system to work with by those on high.

Another plus for the RPA at Northallerton is its setting. Apparently one Kent farmer drove up, successfully handed in his paper IACS, then pitched his tent in the grounds and had a good nights sleep! &#42

Grappling with gremlins on the "Government Gateway"… Kevin Littleboy reverted to paper forms when his patience ran out with the e-IACS system.

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Kevin Littleboy

10 May 2002

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

LAST month I accompanied the British Cereal Export trade mission to Morocco and Tunisia.

Both countries take the need for importation of cereals very seriously as they are fearful of a return to the "bread riots" that swept North Africa and beyond in 1981.

On the two day trip we met ministers, secretary generals, heads of ministerial departments, and private sector mill owners plus consuls and commercial attaches from the British embassies. Feedback from the seminar attendees proved that all the hard work by HGCA staff is appreciated overseas.

In Morocco these efforts are so well respected that after our meeting with Hassan Benabderrazik, secretary general of the Moroccan ministry of agriculture, HGCA chairman, Tony Pike, flew out to officially sign a "Protocol of Understanding". This formalises the relationship between Morocco and the UK cereal sector, which I hope will lead to further trade.

As with all successful trips there has to be at least one hiccup. Tunisian Airways cancelled our flight between Casablanca and Tunisia. The only way to honour our meeting with Essia Bejaoui, head of purchasing in the Tunisian Office des Cereales was to get up in the middle of the night to catch a flight from Casablanca to Amsterdam and then on to Tunisia – two sides of an extremely tall triangle. Tunisian Airways partially redeemed themselves by allowing me to smoke on the flight and offering free wine.

Before anybody else sends a set of car keys to Gordon Brown at 11 Downing Street to protest at the increase of company car taxation that penalises small rural businesses, a word of warning. Apparently, one should take out the battery or chip in the key fob beforehand, as it sets off the alarms in Downing Streets secure mailroom. If you do not you will get a recorded delivery letter from the Metropolitan Police stating "ever so politely" that you have made your point, but have wasted much valuable Police time "disarming" the fob! &#42

Kevin Littleboy is back with tales from a British Cereal Export mission to Tunisia and Morocco and of car keys at 11 Downing Street.

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Kevin Littleboy

15 March 2002

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

UNITED we stand, divided we fall could not be a truer adage, nowadays.

Recent reports in the Press have discussed the idea of a separate Arable Association. The NFU is perceived to have failed in taking the lead on the way forward for agriculture, especially in the arable sector.

Admittedly, lobbying and PR has to be proactive and not just an attempt to keep the status quo. The days of simply producing graphs that show falling incomes are over. The aim must be to show how the industry can change and contribute to society if it wants to maintain support payments.

Understandably, the arable sector has felt neglected, presumably because the union has had a huge workload over the past seven years supporting the livestock sector. Indeed, if I thought an Arable Association could achieve something, then I would be for it. But I do not.

We all pay subscriptions to myriad organisations and associations, but agriculture just isnt big enough to sustain this any longer. The inherent blame culture in this country is a cause of many splinter organisations being set up. We should look closer to home and ask have we spent as much energy and time examining our own businesses as we have complaining to others?

I believe that we should have one umbrella organisation encompassing the numerous associations and organisations out there. Its sole purpose is PR, education and the promotion of British agriculture and the countryside. Underneath that, all the individual specialist sector groups can lobby with the benefit of reduced admin costs.

With the budget a mere month away, isnt it extraordinary that this environmentally sensitive government is considering taxing company car drivers on CO2 emmisions/km. One wonders how much CO2 is released importing a leg of lamb from New Zealand. Yet, here I am totally unappreciated for my CO2-absorbing farm. Surely I should get 10p off each packet of cigarettes? &#42

Agriculture is not big enough to sustain its myriad organisations and associations, says Kevin Littleboy.

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Kevin Littleboy

15 February 2002

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

WELL, it is now official. I am dysfunctional and unsustainable! Many friends, neighbours and associates knew that already without the Curry Commission making it quite so public.

As with all previous commission or government reports, they wouldnt be worthwhile if they werent controversial or thought provoking in some way. Having read Don Currys report there is a lot that makes common sense and some pointers for the way forward.

Farmings dinosaurs, who have publicly damned it in its entirety, must realise that such ostrich behaviour and public action wins neither votes nor consumer confidence.

Ultimately, consumers are our customers. Much as I hate government meddling, red tape, form filling, being told how and when to sit, eat and bath, I have to learn that society now plays a big role in what I do.

So, please can we have a mature informed debate rather than a pathetic, juvenile point scoring "I am better than though" or "my shinning green organisation is the answer to all farmers ills" attitude for everybodys future and well being? With the Press releases issued from various countryside and farming organisations one wonders not only whether we live on the same planet, but more importantly have we got the same end goal – an agriculture industry that shapes the countryside? No wonder caravaner Margaret Beckett is confused.

Recently, I attended the HGCAs excellent Milling Wheat for Export bread-making conference at CCFRA in Chipping Campden. It may have been highly amusing to Kim Little of CCFRA and Paul Biscoe of the HGCA to make me bake bread and wear a hairnet, but it seriously damaged my street cred. Thank goodness I got the hat off before the photographer arrived.

More seriously, it is pleasing to see that some UK wheats are ideal for making Portuguese, Spanish and Italian bread. Our challenge as farmers is to produce more nabim group 2 wheat for these overseas markets. The fact that 50% of this years wheat is group 3 Claire or Consort will challenge our grain traders. &#42

Caption Competition: "A bottle of bubbly for the best," says Kevin "baker" Littleboy. E-mail howe@farmline.com

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Kevin Littleboy

14 December 2001

Kevin Littleboy

Kevin Littleboy farms 243ha

(600 acres) as Howe

Estates at Howe, Thirsk, N

Yorks. The medium sandy

loam in the Vale of York

supports potatoes, winter

wheat, rape and barley, plus

grass for sheep

I WAS somewhat bemused by a letter sent on Nov 14 to all MPs by DEFRA minister Margaret Beckett.

She complained that she had received over 4500 letters from MPs since June 8, double the number MAFF received in the same period last year, and admits that the ministerial team is alarmed by the scale of the problem. And she is equally alarmed at the effects on hard-pressed staff.

I could conclude that there must be a lot to complain about with the new DEFRA and that the incumbent ministry must have been very efficient. Putting aside my devil horns, surely someone realises that DEFRAs responsibilities are a tad bigger than MAFFs were. If MPs are having problems getting answers to letters, God help us mere plebs.

With the ending of the strict restrictions to do with foot-and-mouth, I seem to have spent more time away at meetings and conferences than on the farm. Presumably everybody is trying to make up for 10 months of inactivity.

One such event was the Agriknowledge conference at York. While I am sure the messages given are very valuable, some are obviously repackaged messages of old. Income and costing graphs of the difference between the top and bottom 25% begs the question what do the top 25% of farmers do and where do they go now to make money?.

I know farming is poverty stricken, but it is a bit too much when a Carthorpe agricultural contractor makes his own public right of way across another farmers land to reach one of his clients.

Having had problems with poachers in fields distant from the main farmstead, I have asked observant neighbours to keep an eye open for misdemeanors. Imagine my surprise that not once, but twice, this contractor was spotted travelling across two of my grass fields to get to a neighbours field to drill. Why cant this contractor use those old fashioned, tarmac covered rights of way they call roads like everybody else? &#42

Bemused from Thirsk… aka Kevin Littleboy.

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Kevin Littleboy

16 November 2001

Kevin Littleboy

Kevin Littleboy farms 243ha

(600 acres) as Howe

Estates at Howe, Thirsk, N

Yorks. The medium sandy

loam in the Vale of York

supports potatoes, winter

wheat, rape and barley, plus

grass for sheep

SPEAKING at the Womens Food and Farming Union AGM, Margaret Beckett said: "DEFRA was created to make a real and lasting difference to peoples lives, both now and for the generations ahead and it isnt just a makeover of MAFF…we are strengthening our focus on the efficiency of our services and the needs of those who are affected by our work…we are doing a great deal, both internally and externally, to change the ways in which we operate…we need to think laterally and develop policies out of the concerns for society, consumers, business and environmentalists."

As usual, little reference to agriculture. Generally her speeches are dominated by the subject of the Kyoto agreement and global warming. Now, I know why.

In the terms of a shooting licence issued by DEFRAs Leeds office, Annex 1, Para 1 (b) it states: "No person shall approach, handle or touch cattle, sheep, goats or other ruminating animals, pigs, deer or ELEPHANTS, while participating in the shoot".

My apologies, Mrs Beckett, for thinking this was another classic case of foot-in-mouth. Clearly, global warming is so severe the UK will become sub-tropical before the end of the shooting season and elephants will roam the land. I suggest farmers weeklys free idiots guide for confused DEFRA officials (Oct 26) should have an elephant instead of a cucumber and maybe giraffes and camels should be included next year too.

Driving around the countryside I have noticed another phenomenon of the warm weather – cellular crop strips. Autumn sprays have had dramatic yellowing effects on crops but here and there are 24m x 3m dark green patches. I can only presume that these are unsprayed spots where the sprayerman answered the mobile and forgot to back up after the phone call.

Potato lifting has finished but needless to say the wheat after spuds isnt in yet. Due to the huge acreage of wheat drilled nationally I think I might drill some elephant grass instead.

Who knows, I might even attract some big game. &#42

Kevin Littleboy is off to look for elephants at Howe Estate, having read the terms of DEFRAs shooting licences for farms in foot-and-mouth restricted areas.

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Kevin Littleboy

19 October 2001

Kevin Littleboy

Kevin Littleboy farms 243ha

(600 acres) as Howe

Estates at Howe, Thirsk, N

Yorks. The medium sandy

loam in the Vale of York

supports potatoes, winter

wheat, rape and barley, plus

grass for sheep

I DO not wish to appear paranoid, but I am not going to mention drilling or potato lifting until I have finished both this year.

So to other matters. The Thirsk bio-security area has been rescinded, giving much relief to all concerned. What is interesting, however, is that with all the extra police and officials patrolling this area I have suffered more from thieves and poachers riding about the fields than in previous years. One thief nicked the safety chains from the combine. So if anybody finds poachers using Claas dog chains, throttle them for me please.

Numerous members of the public, not related to agriculture, have commented on how clean and tidy all the farming vehicles are now looking, and hasnt British Agriculture improved its image. Food must be better produced and safer to eat, they reason. My only concern is how long this perception will remain.

I am amazed how far this government has gone to politicise the civil service. Governmental protocol used to mean political speeches made by ministers were never published on departmental websites. So imagine my surprise at finding the Labour Party conference speech made by Margaret Beckett, secretary of state for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on the DEFRA web-site.

The speech shows how far the words agriculture, farming, marketing and profitability have declined in importance. Needless to say the words foot-and-mouth warranted one short sentence.

In a world of deteriorating standards of service, it is a pleasant surprise to find there are still people who work above and beyond the call of duty – namely certain individuals at North Yorkshire Trading Standards.

On entering the new animal movement licensing centre, I was bemused to find directly in front of me a large shackle bolted to the skirting board and an eye bolt drilled into the floor. Apart from the mind boggling at who the previous occupant of the office was, I can only presume it is farmers who will now be shackled, until they learn how to fill out the forms neatly and correctly. &#42

Clean machines to minimise foot-and-mouth risks seem to have convinced the public that farming has cleaned up its act. But how long will this perception persist, wonders Kevin Littleboy.

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Kevin Littleboy

27 July 2001

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

I KNOW that farming at present is like living in the dark, trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it as a sad reflection on society when the BBC achieves a viewing figure of 2.6m for a period of 25 minutes when the transmitters failed and their screens went black at 8pm on a recent Saturday. To put that in perspective, Panorama – broadcast the following Sunday -had 0.5m fewer people watching.

I was one of a handful of farmers invited to the "rural renaissance" launch of our Rural Development Agency – Yorkshire Forward. In the room there were 100 organisations, departments, councils and companies all vying for the allocation of money and furthering their individual causes on how to revitalise the countryside.

However, the total failure to realise that the major agricultural commodities are traded on a volatile global market and that the majority of consumers buy on price was incredible.

Agriculture and rural businesses have to be profitable to provide the environmental, conservation and social benefits that society now demands. Suggestions to replace CAP with nationally determined integrated rural development policies and a process of regional modulation of CAP payments to fund these policies shows that there is a failure to understand how the EU works.

In 2000, the total income for farming fell from £2.5bn to £1.8bn and I dread to think what the 2001 figure will be. Moving to 20% modulation will remove £0.75bn from agricultural compensation direct payments to rural development schemes, of which 86% are environmental schemes for organic farming or the hill farming allowance.

I seriously question whether the commercially unaware do-gooders can spend this awesome amount more effectively on individual chocolate box schemes or give it as area payments to farmers who are already tending and looking after the environment.

On a lighter note, perhaps the slogan to counter the collapse of the lamb market should be: "Eat British lamb, 50,000 foxes cant be wrong". &#42

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Kevin Littleboy

21 July 2000

Kevin Littleboy

Kevin Littleboy farms 243ha

(600 acres) as Howe

Estates at Howe, Thirsk, N

Yorks. The medium sandy

loam in the Vale of York

supports potatoes, winter

wheat, rape and barley, plus

grass for sheep

HARVEST is still 10 days away and, for the first time ever, we could be combining our oilseed rape before barley this year.

The pre-harvest hiatus gives me time to relay a recent police incident I heard about. On a rural stretch of main road just north of here, a traffic policemans radar speed trap was quietly clocking passing vehicles when it suddenly went off the scale, locking at 370mph. On returning the apparently faulty radar gun, the policeman learnt he had nearly been incinerated by a missile from a fighter plane. Apparently, his radar had locked onto the missile guidance system of the low flying jet, and been interpreted as an attack from the enemy. Only the quick thinking of the pilot aborted the launch of a very expensive missile. Mind you, the drivers caught earlier in the day probably wished the pilot had let it go!

Amazingly, after a flood situation six weeks ago, I am now irrigating the potatoes. "Irritating" is more than apt this year, as if it isnt the generator blowing up, its the proximity or sensor switches malfunctioning, and the usual seals, hydrants and pipes blowing. We did make the quality silage before the rains, but hay has taken over three weeks to make and isnt good. Now, like everyone, we need the sun and a summer.

A conversation overheard at the Great Yorkshire Show, between a banker and a customer from the Dales, sticks in my mind. After the local branch of his bank closed the customer decided to try using the online banking facility. The computer asked him for his account number, so duly he told it several times and nothing happened. After shouting at the screen for five minutes, he telephoned the help line and spoke to a human who explained the account number must be entered using a keyboard and that the problem wasnt as he thought – that the computer didnt understand a Yorks accent.

And MAFF thinks that all farmers should now be capable of submitting their claims on line.

Harvest? You must be joking…but Ill tell you something I overheard at the Great Yorkshire Show, says Kevin Littleboy.

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Kevin Littleboy

4 February 2000

Kevin Littleboy

Kevin Littleboy

Kevin Littleboy farms 243ha

(600 acres) as Howe

Estates at Howe, Thirsk, N

Yorks. The medium sandy

loam in the Vale of York

supports potatoes, winter

wheat, rape and barley, plus

grass for sheep

ON Christmas Eve, I was amazed to find I could book and pay for a holiday for under half price on the Internet. For just over £600 I flew half way around the world to a four star hotel in 80 degrees of sunshine for the millennium. I could have flown to New Zealand for £50, but I chickened out of flying on Dec 31 as I wasnt born with wings or flippers.

Whilst the Y2K bug didnt materialise for most, it certainly did for two extremely well known and prominent Yorkshire farmers who went to France for the millennium, and ended up with no electricity or water. The devil in me says serves you right for going across the Channel but at least Yorkshire Water shares shot up on their return.

Having sold grain over the years using a multitude of different schemes and options, rather than the so called spot price market, I believe this year has shown the benefit of using managed funds. My "caring, sharing" merchant achieved £99.05/t for the managed short fund. Thank you Thorpe Arch trading room, I only wish I had agreed to a bigger tonnage.

Most grain companies run one form or another of these schemes now, but they vary considerably in their successes and administrative costs. It would be interesting to see how companies from one end of the country to the other performed this year. As the government is so fixated by performance league tables I will take a leaf out of their book and ask you to e-mail me at Kevin.Littleboy@farmline.com with your schemes results, and what is on offer to you this year? Everything will be treated in the strictest confidence.

Compulsory reading for all farmers and especially consultants is the long awaited European Commission report from the Directorate-General for Agriculture on the Prospects for Agricultural Markets 1999 to 2006. It can be found at their easily accessible website, http://europa eu.int/comm/dg06/publi/caprep/prospects but I warn you it is 128 pages long.

Hmmm….No grain pool performance tables in here. Perhaps growers would like to e-mail their results to me, says Kevin.Littleboy@farmline.com

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Kevin Littleboy

29 May 1998

Kevin Littleboy

Kevin Littleboy farms 243ha

(600 acres) as Howe

Estates at Howe, Thirsk, N

Yorks. The medium sandy

loam in the Vale of York

supports potatoes, winter

wheat, rape and barley, plus

grass for sheep

I AM pleased to say we have finally finished planting potatoes, exactly one month later than last year. Just to cheer everybody up, here is a weather warning – we will shortly be married to our irrigators. Wouldnt farming be boring if we didnt complain about the weather?

After a two-year investigation, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission found evidence that manufacturers were restricting supplies to shops which wanted to offer electrical goods at discounts and were pressuring retailers to stick to Recommended Retail Prices. The government has announced measures, due to come into force in September, allowing shops to set prices where they like.

Let us hope pricing structures set by chemical manufacturers are next. It is quite obvious, having seen numerous spray quotations, that there is a parallel here – especially with two major chemical companies.

Two further announcements this week will aid farmers in this battle. Firstly, it is hoped that by the end of June The European Court of Justice will back Advocate General Pierre Leger in his opinion that to be identical products need only contain the same active ingredients, but not necessarily in the same proportions. This will help the importation of chemicals by farmers from cheaper sources.

Secondly, the announcement that Star Agrochem, the largest UK independent buying group, has joined forces with an association of private French agrochemical distributors called Agrainter. With a combined turnover of over £110m they will work together for mutual benefit. Hopefully then farmers will gain from the true meaning of pan-European prices.

Flag leaf sprays will now be a triazole due to high septoria and mildew, rather than the planned Amistar (azoxystrobin). The cost of the two chemicals together is prohibitive in the present climate. We will re-examine its use at ear emergence. After all the hype it is a shame the new chemicals came too late for an early dose before all the rains. This year it would have been ideal.

Just off to service the irrigators…

If the price of electrical goods has been fixed, when will the monopolies and Mergers Commission turn its attention to agrochemicval pricing, asks NYorks farmer, Kevin Littleboy?

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Kevin Littleboy

1 May 1998

Kevin Littleboy

Kevin Littleboy farms 243ha

(600 acres) as Howe

Estates at Howe, Thirsk, N

Yorks. The medium sandy

loam in the Vale of York

supports potatoes, winter

wheat, rape and barley, plus

grass for sheep

LAST month I uttered these immortal words: "By the time you read this I will have started planting."

New potato crisping variety Aquanix has survived and is growing well in these conditions but another thunderstorm and 0.75in (19mm) of rain last night put paid to planting the Saturna again this week.

Last year we had finished planting by mid-April. The trial site of rice on the River Swale flood plain has chitted very evenly.

The wheats are at growth stage 32, and I have yet to spray some fields with a growth regulator, manganese, and herbicide for cleavers where necessary. Thankfully, I did get the first dressing of nitrogen on.

I decided to join the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme, because I didnt want the farm at a disadvantage. It is important to be able to supply any outlet in this volatile and over-supplied market.

I have now been inspected. The verifier wanted to see a temperatures probe for the bins and insect traps in place. While the inspection was less onerous than we were all led to believe, I do think certain questions could be rephrased, and some compliance measures are unnecessary.

Asking a farmer whether he knows his soil type is slightly insulting, and I do not believe it is necessary to keep a sample of grain from a load once that load has been processed with no come-back. Apparently, on other inspections record-keeping and glass lighting in the grain areas are common faults.

My caring, sharing merchant, Kenneth Wilson, has launched a marketing initiative called Premier Growers Scheme. To be members, we have to be ACCS-registered, able to load a 25t lorry in 30 minutes, etc. It will be interesting to see what premium will be achievable. The words "caring, sharing" will be put to the test.

By the time you read this, I will have restarted planting. But it has just begun to you know what. Anybody got a hovercraft?

Anyone got a hovercraft? Rice is chitting well on the Swale flood plain but Saturna potatoes are yet to be planted on Kevin Littleboys farm in North Yorks.

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Kevin Littleboy

3 April 1998

Kevin Littleboy

Kevin Littleboy farms 243ha

(600 acres) as Howe

Estates at Howe, Thirsk, N

Yorks. The medium sandy

loam in the Vale of York

supports potatoes, winter

wheat, rape and barley, plus

grass for sheep

ONCE again it is the time of year for formulating spray programmes and choosing products.

With this in mind it is interesting to note that chemical manufacturers are trying to implement pan-European prices this year. Presumably this is to stem the flood of chemicals from Europe through the back door – in the back of alleged Tranny vans and by parallel importation.

Perhaps this will at last allay the widespread discomfort felt by farmers, who suspect manufacturers have more control over prices than is either warranted or healthy.

I am currently awaiting quotations from numerous distributors for spring chemicals, so it will be interesting to see if any prices have a common thread throughout the quotations.

We all know feed wheat prices are now in the £60s, with no encouragement of improved forward prices at harvest. So, everybody must look at their spray programmes and prices, bearing in mind that they must not disadvantage themselves by failing to achieve quality.

Prices of chemicals differ widely, depending on the level of support and technical advice provided. But do not be fooled by the bolt-on extras that are used as an excuse for high prices. Ring another distributor and find out, and then compare what you are paying with an off the shelf price. Is the difference justified?

All too regularly I hear the same justification. "He/she has walked the fields for years, and knows the farm well – I leave it to him/her." This statement is unfortunately no longer viable, unless you are very rich. A 10p phone call cant harm.

And what about my farm. All the wheat has had its first major N dressing and rape has had all its sulphur and nitrogen. The latter even has a few yellow flowers – ugh!

By the time you read this, weather permitting potato planting will have started and the second batch of ewes will be lambing too. &#42

Check your spray costs now – you could be paying way over the odds if you are using a distributors field walking service, warns Yorks farmer Kevin Littleboy. A few phone calls to check prices could prove very profitable.

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Kevin Littleboy

6 March 1998

Kevin Littleboy

Kevin Littleboy farms 243ha

(600 acres) as Howe

Estates at Howe, Thirsk, N

Yorks. The medium sandy

loam in the Vale of York

supports potatoes, winter

wheat, rape and barley, plus

grass for sheep

FEBRUARY having been so warm could cause us a few problems; the forward winter wheat is at T1, which means we are over four weeks ahead of the norm.

I have resisted applying any nitrogen for fear of accelerating lush growth, which I will be unable to keep clean and upright, and because of the apparent abundance of mineralised nitrogen in the warm soils.

The winter barleys growth pattern is more reliant on daylight hours, so it will be fertilised with the oilseed rape after this cold snap.

The oilseed rape is further forward than I had wished, even after drilling it in September. This winter has disappointed the pigeon shooters, as there have been few birds eating the rape, so the crop looks the best I have seen since its reintroduction to the rotation six years ago.

We have certainly not sprayed any fungicides yet, as this cold weather (hope it brings some frosts) might do the trick. Having said that I have seen sprayers in winter wheat recently – I wonder what I am missing?

We have graded out and sold all our potatoes, including our over-sized Hermes. All contracts for this year have finally been discussed, although one big crisping company has still not finalised what it requires. It is disconcerting when one is about to plant a crop not knowing exactly the terms and conditions of storage and delivery.

The growth of the stubble turnips is so good this year that it is taking a little longer to eat off than expected, so none of the potato land has been ploughed yet. Probably a blessing in disguise, otherwise I may have been tempted to work this land.

The turnout today in London was fantastic, and I only hope someone actually listens to all the grievances from the countryside and the rural businesses that we are all so reliant on. The vast numbers attending should at least stir some reaction in No. 10. &#42

Kevin Littleboy – hoping all the rural business messages from last Sundays countryside march get through to politicians.

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Kevin Littleboy

9 January 1998

Kevin Littleboy

Kevin Littleboy farms 243ha

(600 acres) as Howe

Estates at Howe, Thirsk, N

Yorks. The medium sandy

loam in the Vale of York

supports potatoes, winter

wheat, rape and barley, plus

grass for sheep

THE contentious subject of bushel weight must be re-examined by the trade, nutritionists and dare I say it, scientists.

This season has seen huge question marks over the penalties imposed on the farming industry for so-called low specific wheat.

Presumably the 72kg/hl base was set by the Intervention Board standard. But now there is no intervention for feed wheat that needs questioning.

If there is a penalty, should we have a bonus for higher specific weight too? That would stop the mixing of penalised wheat with higher grade wheat which has attracted no premium.

It is quite understandable and right that buyers set their own quality standards.

But when penalties have differed from one company to another this year for the same market, isnt it time to become more professional?

On examining protein and energy levels, and the price of their imported equivalents, it is surprising to find that between 72 and 68kg/hl the difference should be numerous pence not numerous pounds!

It is time we were paid for what we produce, whatever that quality. That is how it is in any other market.

However, as my caring, sharing merchant (his words, not mine) usually obtains a premium for my feed wheat I have probably shot myself in the foot. Everybody will be after some sort of premium now.

On our farm a Kamas cleaner certainly helps, but this is only the second year it has paid to use it. The Buster wheat harvested after the rains returned 66-70kg/hl before cleaning over a 2.5mm screen.

That took it over 74kg/hl, with cleanings of 58kg/hl (which I fail to understand as it is all below 2.5mm).

Is anyone interested in buying the screenings? Perhaps I could start the bidding at £100/t. Oh, and I think Ive just seen some pigs fly past the window!

It is time for farmers to be paid for what they produce, says Kevin Littleboy. Stiff penalties for low bushel weight need questioning.

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Kevin Littleboy

12 December 1997

Kevin Littleboy

Kevin Littleboy farms 243ha

(600 acres) as Howe

Estates at Howe, Thirsk, N

Yorks. The medium sandy

loam in the Vale of York

supports potatoes, winter

wheat, rape and barley, plus

grass for sheep

THANKFULLY the prolonged wet weather has been replaced by frosts and what the weathermen describe as lukewarm sun. The land is still too wet to travel on, so the IPU and DFF spraying still hasnt been completed on the wheats.

The amusing twist to buying the chemicals this year is that I didnt purchase the IPU earlier on when it was being marketed at around £14, but now that I have bought it cheaper, I cant get it onto the land. If I have to spray a more expensive chemical (wild oats, etc) next year – who has won? I hope Father Christmas will turn my well stocked chemical store into profitability!

On the patches of heavy land clay outcrops, the early drilled wheat has finally chitted and is slowly emerging. I was unable to re-roll these areas, due to the rain, so slug damage is considerable albeit that slug pellets have been applied twice; and I have been unable to redrill any of these areas. The Buster wheat drilled for seed production, after potatoes, is well through and is the best stand of all the wheats.

The Agricultural and Food Industry has pontificated for ages on the so called proof of scientific evidence, to allay the fears of our customers. Isnt it a wonder why we become cynics (I more than others, Ill say before someone says it), when it is announced that nitrates in food and water are good for you.

When I started farming some 10 years ago, I became embroiled in trying to argue against the arbitrary figure of 50ppm of nitrate in water set by the then EEC, after evidence from the World Health Organisation.

It is now recognised that nitrates infood and water are good for you – eat a high nitrate lettuce (if you can find an imported one!) before your meal – this will generate nitrous oxide in your stomach which acts as a bactericide, which will help kill off e.coli. Question: Will it take another decade or two, to prove that rump steak is safe to eat?

Poor weather means field work has taken a back seat recently. Herbicide programmes will now need a careful rethink, says Kevin Littleboy.

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Kevin Littleboy

14 November 1997

Kevin Littleboy

Kevin Littleboy farms 243ha

(600 acres) as Howe

Estates at Howe, Thirsk, N

Yorks. The medium sandy

loam in the Vale of York

supports potatoes, winter

wheat, rape and barley, plus

grass for sheep

THANKFULLY, I can now say all is safely gathered in. The potato harvest is finished and all the wheat drilled.

The mid-September drilled wheat is still struggling to chit on the heavier land, due to a cloddy, dry seed-bed, but the late September sown crop is all through.

Variety choice for this season has been Abbott, Buster, Consort and Rialto winter wheat, Regina winter barley and Commanche oilseed rape. The latter was drilled at 4.5kg/ha (4lb/acre) and irrigated to get good establishment and now almost looks too well.

At the Great North Meet conference I discovered a new concern to add to our list of challenges – as if a strong £, low cereal prices, area aid penalties, poor quality, farm assurance, and the weather are not enough.

The Minister of State, Mr Rooker, said: "It is disappointing that the commissions proposals (Agenda 2000) contain no hint that this compensation should be phased out. We (the Labour government) strongly believe that it is important these payments should be temporary and degressive, so they are used as adjustment aid, rather than a means of slowing down what we regard as the inevitable and essential development and rationalisation of EU Agriculture."

With his words still echoing in my mind, I joined a group of north-eastern farmers visiting Brussels. It was refreshing to hear the commission officials we met say they did not believe the rug was about to be pulled out from beneath our feet, leaving UK agriculture stranded and fending for itself.

There was a genuine realism and understanding of the consequences of the future expansion of the EU and the impending WTO talks, coupled with budgetary limitations. Thankfully, the workings of the commission and the diverse political nature of Europe mean any changes will be implemented slowly and nowhere near as sudden or as dramatic as our political masters in the UK would like. &#42

Crops are coming away well on Kevin Littleboys Howe Estate in the Vale of York. But Brussels bureaucrats leave him feeling nervous.

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