16 April 1999

Winter returns

WINTER returned to Scotland this week with frost, sleet, and snowfalls all coinciding with the start of the hill lambing season.

Scottish NFU president Jim Walker said he feared a high sheep mortality rate in the hills. "Many people retained extra ewes because of the disastrous prices in the autumn. It has meant heavier stocking rates and ewes in lean condition. This return to winter is going to take a heavy toll. &#42

ACRE shake-up

Environment minister Michael Meacher has announced a shake-up of ACRE, the committee that approves releases of GM crops to the environment. He plans to replace 10 of the committees 13 members with independent experts in June.

There has been widespread criticism that existing ACRE members are too close to the main biotech firms. But Mr Meacher said the changes were needed to comply with the Nolan recommendations which limit the time individuals can serve on advisory committees. &#42

Public consultation on MLCunderway

PUBLIC consultation on the governments proposals for changes to the Meat and Livestock Commission is underway.

Having reviewed the role and operation of MLC, the government has suggested that strategy councils should be given greater responsibility for developing their own policies in the three red meat sectors.

Ultimately, the promotional councils should be phased out, the government says. And it recommends that consideration should be given to replacing the current general and promotional levies with one enhanced rate for each species.

Any move to give strategy councils more power would be welcome, says Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association. With producers in the majority on each of the councils, such a move would go a long way to giving those who funded the bulk of MLC work a stronger voice, he believes.

"In the past the MLC has seen as a lecturing rather than listening organisation. This report tries to overcome the accusation that the MLC pays too much attention to processors and retailers and not enough to the people that fund it."

But John Thorley, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, is adamant that phasing out promotional councils could be a mistake.

"Promotion is a specialist affair and we believe that it would be better to keep the expertise rather than overload the strategy councils with no benefit."

According to Mr Thorley, the NSAs greatest concern is the impact on the whole industry if the pig sector continues to demand a separate pig promotion body.

But that remains the long-term goal of the British Pig Industry Support Group.

"A multi-species approach doesnt work," says Meryl Ward, BPISG treasurer. "We need more focus and a team totally focused on the needs of the pig industry." &#42

Welsh warn of dairy exodus

SO many Welsh milk producers are ready to quit that there is a risk of land, stock and quota values going into freefall.

The warning, from Mansel Raymond, chairman of the NFUs Welsh milk committee, is one of many issued over the last week by Welsh farming leaders and follows Milk Marques announcement of an 18p/standard litre milk price from May 1.

"Nobody was expecting a cut and many of the producers I talk to are telling me they have had enough," Mr Raymond said. "The milk price is already below the true cost of production on many farms. Unless returns improve, a sizeable exodus now seems certain. I am afraid we could see the break up of the dairy industry in west Wales, where remoteness and a limited number of buyers keep the milk price lower."

Farmers were not prepared to go on milking cows twice a day and seven days a week for no reward, especially where their sons and daughters had rejected the idea of farming. &#42

This portrait of a herdsman asleep with his prize-winning cattle took the top award in the Semex/Daily Telegraph photographic competition. Taken at the 1998 Cheshire Show, it beat off the challenge from more than 450 other pictures to scoop the £1000 first prize for photographer Stephen Shakeshaft from Scarisbrick, Lancs. The competition, run in conjunction with the Guild of Agricultural Journalists, aimed to mark the new millennium by portraying the essence of farming today – its problems, its people and its potential. Runners-up included this picture, taken by Farmers Guardian photographer John Eveson, where John Stott of Laund Farm and helpers run 300 of his ewe lambs through the village main street on the way to the Chipping sheep sale near Preston, Lancs.