Archive Article: 2000/02/18

18 February 2000

Tony Blair fans flames in Wales

Tony Blair has inflamed the anger and distress felt by many Welsh family farms by stating that while farming incomes have fallen by 60%, there is no crisis in rural areas.

Mr Blair assures the rural population that the standard of education is better, there is less crime in rural areas, and the mortality rate is lower. The fact that 42% of the rural area has no village shop and 49% has no school seems to have passed him by.

Agriculture is no longer an important player in the rural economy contributing only about 2% of income and 3% of employment. This is the same Prime Minister who, in a speech to farmers in London,stated that: "More than any other activity, farming defines the special character of our countryside and the unique fabric of our rural life. So Britain needs a strong thriving agriculture industry."

The Prime Minister seems ready to cast adrift the agriculture industry to sink or swim. In addition, when the industry is decimated, as it surely will be under these policies, who will feed the country?

Brian Thomas

County chairman, Pembrokeshire Farmers Union of Wales, Llwynoelyn Lan, Llanfyrnach, Pembrokeshire.

Britain part of Fourth Reich

It was alarming to observe at the NFU AGM last week that the future of British agriculture is not controlled by Nick Brown or even Tony Blair, but by the unelected Austrian Franz Fischler and the rest of the Agricultural Commission in Brussels.

Its sad to realise how much of our national sovereignty has been sacrificed on the altar of European unity. For example, our farm minister cannot help the British pig industry in its time of need because he may run foul of some idiotic EU ruling that no other Member State would take the slightest notice of.

The time has come to tell the EU bureaucrats, using one of our fine Anglo-Saxon phrases, to mind their own affairs and leave us to do likewise. If our government gives away any more of our nationality we may as well start learning German. We are in grave danger of becoming an insignificant part of the new United States of Europe, which in reality should be called the Fourth Reich.

Dick Lindley

Birkwood Farm, Altofts, Normanton, West Yorks.

NFU venue far too extravagant

I was amazed to learn that the NFU held its AGM at the Hilton Hotel in London. Surely, when the farming industry claims to be in such a deep financial crisis it was hardly the appropriate venue to gain public support.

Adele Entwistle

Valley View, White Horse Lane, Rhodes Minnis, Canterbury, Kent.

Confident in Ben and team

We write to congratulate Ben Gill on his re-election as the President of the NFU.

We are absolutely confident that Ben and his new team are the right people for this exceedingly crucial job in these austere times.

At the NFU AGM, the Prime Minister gave cold comfort for the short-term prospects for British agriculture but had a long-term vision for the farmers role in the future.

He missed the point, or chose to ignore it, for without the short-term solution therewill be no long-term.

We are sure that Ben and his new team will redouble their efforts to find a way through this mire. We offer you our fullest support.

John Whitby, David Orpwood, Anthony Aston, Berks, Bucks and Oxon NFU.

J & S Whitby, Rowley Farm, Black Park Road, Wexham, Buckinghamshire.

US producers back GM crops

I congratulate you for the balanced way your journal reports contentious farming issues. But I was disappointed to see Greenpeace propaganda reported almost verbatim under the cover of a news story.

Your article, "US farmers fear liability over GM crops" (Arable, Feb 4) leads one to believe that large numbers of US farmers are starting to turn their backs on GM technology. I can understand why Greenpeace would want this to be the case but unfortunately it is untrue. Fifty-five per cent of all US and Canadian soya plantings are GM. That is so because US farmers trust and use the technology. The organisations quoted are minority groups which do not represent most American farmers.

It is interesting that Greenpeace has paid for the same fringe groups to come over here to try to persuade UK farmers that there are now big doubts about GM technology in the US.

Having listened to these farmers at a Greenpeace meeting in Norwich, I was intrigued to hear Corky Jones of the American Corn Growers Association explain that he now grew 100% GM soya and this had halved his pesticide use. If that is the most virulent anti-GM farmer that Greenpeace can find in the US it convinces me that it is grasping at straws.

Guy Smith

EU decision on tractors correct

I refer to your article "Out-of-date tractor sales figures farce" (Opinion, Feb 4). The decision taken by the EU Commission to prevent the release of timely tractor sales figures data was motivated by a desire for increased competition among tractor manufacturers to the benefit of farmers.

Timely sales figures are considered by the EU to reduce competition where a high market share is held by few competitors.

The EU, for once, is doing farmers a favour.

Alastair George

Blair should be wary of history

In failing to grasp the plight of Britains farmers, the Prime Ministers remark: "They should diversify" was about as insensitive as the comment made by the Queen of France during the 17th century: "If they have no bread, let them eat cake". The events which followed all those years ago should be noted by Mr Blair. History has a nasty habit of repeating itself.

Jeremy Whitaker

Land of Nod, Headley, Bordon, Hampshire.

Grinning Tony goes in the fire

Our farmers weekly arrived today to be enjoyed by the whole family. It had only been here a few hours before the missus cut off the front page and put it on the fire. None of us could stand to have that man grinning at us from the front cover all week.

Derek, Andy and Iain Smith

Moorend Farm, Slimbridge, Gloucester.

Transport costs slash milk price

While recovering from flu, I mulled over some figures from my December Milk Marque statement.

My milk price of 16.317p/litre is reduced to 13p by its grossly unfair transport and handling charges. In simple terms, the less you send the harder it hits you. Even on EOD £16 per collection works out at 19.79% of the per litre price. If I was on every-day collection, £13.50 a day would be 33.09%, reducing my price to 10.9p/litre.

Looking back to Jan 1995, I had a price of 23.76p/litre before a 1.26p/litre collection charge on every-day pick up. That worked out at only 5.3% of my price. These are for similar quantities of milk, 7666 litres last year and 7900 in 1994.

How can I continue to produce at todays price? Small, inefficient dairy farmer I hear you say. So why do my larger, supposedly more efficient counterparts, who benefit from economy of scale, need me to subsidise them to the point of putting myself out of business?

I am sure there must be someone who could use my 125,000 litres a year of consistently high quality milk, and pay me a price which covers my costs.

Richard Garrett

Brackley Gorse, Brackley, Northants.

Delia will save our bacon

Has the NFU ever heard of Delia Smith? With one mention of the word egg the sales rocketed to an all time high. Im sure she could do the same for the British pig market.

British pork is the best in the world but is losing money ham over fist. Delia has the power to rescue the British pork farmers. Will someone please ask her?

Gillian OSullivan

Great Dunmow, Essex.

How mesostemic action works

With reference to your article "You say mesostemic, I say quasi-systemic" (Arable, Feb 4), I would like to clarify several points.

First, mesostemic is a scientifically-described mode of action that certain strobilurin fungicides possess. As well as movement around the plant, it also includes movement from one plant to another within the cereal canopy. A large proportion of the applied chemical remains locked on to the plant surface, rather than penetrating it. That means it fights off disease before it has a chance to invade and enhances persistence against rainfall and weathering.

Strobilurins vary in their chemo-dynamic activity and biological performance. Not all strobilurins are mesostemic. Indeed, research shows there are clear yield benefits from F279 compared with other strobilurins.

In pioneering the mesostemic concept, Novartis scientists have put considerable effort into researching mesostemic activity in both the laboratory and field, as well as quantifying the benefits that F279s activity brings to growers. Clearly, in doing this, we talk about results on our own product, since that is where most of our experiments have been directed.

In fact, different absorption rates to wax, entry speeds into plants and movement within the canopy are directly related to level of disease control achieved.

Beth Hall

Development project leader, Novartis Crop Protection, Whittlesford, Cambridge.

Keep starling nuisance at bay

As a dairy consultant living in Devon I can understand Mr Crockers concern about starlings (Letters, Nov 5).

The birds are almost certainly migratory birds that move here in the autumn to escape the harder Continental winter. They prefer to stay in coastal areas and further inland the problem almost disappears.

Contamination of the feed and the housing area by starlings droppings is recognised as a serious hazard by some milk buyers and is taken into account on farm assurance audits.

Keeping the birds at bay once they have settled on a farm as their feeding area is extremely difficult. Starlings, like other species that live in large groups, are immune to the loss of a few of their kin. A constant threat must be obvious to the group as a whole for a deterrent to work.

It is necessary to make your farm less attractive than somewhere else. The birds soon become acclimatised to bangers or sirens but intense and persistent harassment with a shotgun, preferably in conjunction with distress recordings played through a loudspeaker when the birds first arrive can persuade them to move on.

Occasional use of a hawk is unlikely to be effective, as starlings are canny. One farmer assures me that his flock soon learned to recognise the falconers van.

Nevertheless, frequent use of a hawk can work and I feel that there must be scope for the falconers who fly birds at visitor centres during the summer to provide a regular pest control service during the winter. Predatory cats can be effective, as they are ever present.

I know farmers who have chosen whole crop cereal silage in preference to maize silage because this denies the birds easy pickings. The same applies to using meal in a mixer wagon ration instead of pellets.

It may not fit the intended feeding plan but there is something to be said for avoiding feeding maize silage early in the winter but waiting until the starlings have stabilised a feeding area somewhere else.

If all else fails, complete enclosure is the ultimate solution.

It must be thorough with wire or plastic mesh over every ventilation outlet and a mesh covered frame fitting closely above every sheeted gate and in some instances rubber strips along the bottoms.

E Bromwell

Lynwood, Kennford, Exeter, Devon.

Time also vital part of ICM

Your article "ICM in cereals might cost growers dear" (Arable, Feb 4) misses a fundamental point about the application of integrated crop management principles. That is integration over time.

Many weed problems arise from the almost exclusive adoption of particular cultivation practices. Those include the application of herbicides with the same mode of action and weed spectrums and new crops which result in volunteers. A flexible approach which integrates different husbandry and cultural practices with different herbicides over the whole rotation will avoid such problems. And it can be designed to reduce the population of pernicious weeds in the seed-bank.

Your article illustrates the pitfalls of tactical (one crop) as opposed to strategic (rotational) thinking. ICM involves integration over time as well as "integration of cultural and husbandry practices".

John Coutts

20 Burnt Hill Way, Wrecclesham, Farnham, Surrey.

Suspicion OP linked to BSE

I was interested in your article (News, Jan 14) which reported that Mark Purdey spent years trying to persuade MAFF to investigate his BSE theory. He believes that the BSE epidemic was caused by mineral imbalance, sparked by organophosphate pesticides rather than contaminated feed.

I was milking 400 cows with 260 followers in Jan 1984 with my family and we treated the herd for warble fly which was compulsory from about 1979 onwards. In 1985 we had some OP left and were not sure about the strength or the dose. We used this medicine because the warbles were becoming controlled and there was no need to keep it for further use.

One animal could not walk for a day or two soon after the treatment. About 1986 we had two animals with BSE – before the MAFF knew what BSE was.

I remember worrying about not knowing the cause of the disease. In the next few years we lost about 14 animals with about nine confirmed cases of BSE. All of these cases were born between February and November 1984. We have not had any other cases of BSE from our own-bred cattle.

Normally, we breed all our own replacements but in 1990 we had to buy about 20 because we did not have enough of our own. We did not like buying because we tried to keep our herd closed. One of the lots from Marlborough had one reactor with BSE. This is the only other reactor that we have had. The only reactors of our own breeding were the ones treated with OP in 1985. Because all our reactors come from the treated group, I can only think that it was the OP that caused our infection.

It is interesting to note that one of our breeding herds is on a farm that has copper deficient soil, high in molybdenum.

We have mixed our own cake for all our animals since 1980 using no meat and bone meal, only fishmeal.

Edward Godnell

Church Farm, Leonard Stanley, Nr Stonehouse, Glos.

Time to brand beef English

British beef is a tainted product throughout the world. People automatically link the brand to BSE and CJD and so are cautious about it.

We know our beef is the safest in the world but they dont. Foreign buyers however, seem more than happy to buy Scottish and Welsh beef because they are not perceived to be the same as British beef. I believe it is time to drop this image and label our beef as English.

Matthew Trewartha

71 Grove Park, Beverley, East Yorks.

Short term gain not the answer

I was particularly interested in your article Use beef value index to gain extra premium (Livestock, Nov 12). The breed structure of sires used in dairy herds has inspired many debates recently.

That is not solely due to the reduced value of Holstein bull calves following the termination of the calf-processing scheme and other problems. Equally important, as you rightly point out, is the importance of maximising productive capability. That means choosing top quality terminal sires for cows and heifers which are not selected for replacement heifer production.

My concern, however, is that farmers may be inclined to find a short-term solution to the devaluation of pure-bred Holstein and Friesian calves. Their breeding programmes may concentrate on the production of terminal animals for beef and neglect the crucial requirement of quality replacement heifer supply to the dairy herd.

When breed structures are hopefully improving and cull rates are rising to levels of more than 23% in dairy herds, it is imperative that the correct balance is maintained between dairy and terminal sires.

The implications of a lack of foresight in the selection of the bulls used to service our dairy herd is perhaps unconsidered by some farmers. They seem to assume that there will be a cheap and accessible supply of similar heifers at a local or national level.

If the factors that influence one farmers decision-making are similar to those considered by his neighbour, a problem arises when deciding to use a higher proportion of terminal bulls. What may be an avoidable situation of an under-supply of replacement heifers to the dairy herd develops into a situation where dairy farmers are being forced to pay over the odds for imported European heifers. That comes at a time when there is pressure mounting to reduce costs.

Paul Sandall

Agriculture economics student, Queens University, Belfast.

Minister of anti-farming…

I was invited to attend the Jonathan Dimbleby interview with Nick Brown on ITV Sunday. Along with other farmers who travelled many miles at their own expense, we listened to what could only be described as the most inept and pathetic performance from a minister of state; a person in charge of the most important industry in the country – food.

Little wonder he makes so little progress with other European farm ministers. He never answered one question with a straight answer, waffled on about the money that has already been given to the farmers, which we know is not correct.

I came to the conclusion that Nick Brown is not our farm minister but the Labour governments minister against farming. Diversify, get closer to your market was his advice. But planning rules and other legislation defeat the first option and supermarket power destroys the second.

D J Cannon

Watercress Hall, Fordham, Colchester.

Modulation – can we refuse?

The EU is offering the UK funds for monetary compensation to offset the effects of our strong £ provided the UK government provides matching funds. But it has refused. The UK government is offering funds for rural development provided they are match-funded by farmers through modulation. Does this mean we can refuse modulation?

Jonathan Dixon Smith

Lanhams Farm, Cressing, Braintree, Essex.

Co-operatives can work here

Now that we know the Labour governments plan – to make farmers market their produce in the face of world prices and competition, it would not take much to form a working party to develop a strategy to save British farming and the rural way of life.

Here in the West Country, we are fortunate to have a diversity of field and horticultural crops, some solidly based farming co-ops such as Mole Valley and SCATS, and a wealth of small-scale marketing talent. The time has come for farmers and village shopkeepers to forge a partnership to serve the rural community by offering wholesome food products of known source, ingredients, hygiene and quality. Lets see, also, new farmers markets establishing in permanent co-operatively-run mini-supermarkets. They could sell branded products using the Taste of the West name-brand and capitalising on the other well-established foods sold under the county of origin labels.

Lets take the bull by the horns and market farmings own clean image from field to fridge and from plough to platter.

It will take a good, strong person to galvanise the proposed working party into the action needed; it will take the brains of someone with experience of supermarket administration to make it work. But it could work, as it does on the Continent where not only do farmers have their own dedicated market houses, but they also have shares in the vast co-ops. Those co-ops take responsibility for collecting, processing, packaging and delivering food products onto the shelves of their own and large supermarkets.

As supermarkets are planning to franchise their name brands in local shops and to return to smaller premises in city centres, farmers should stall them by pinching their mission.

David Parker,

Chairman, Salisbury District Council, Salisbury, Wilts.

No point in wrong census

I noticed MAFFs figures on the decline of the national sow herd taken from the November census (Business, Feb 4). We didnt receive a census form for that period so I telephoned York from where the census is organised only to be told they dont send out forms to all pig farms as many pigs are kept on rented land.

I told them our pigs are on our land. What is the point of census forms if all sows arent recorded? I think we must be wary of inaccurate numbers that lead to over-production, which we have already been accused of doing.

Margaret Thompson

1 Fen Bank, Isleham, Ely, Cambs.

Tescos labels make it clear

Mr Giles letter, "Pork imports packed in the UK" (Jan 28), shows how easily customers are being confused by stories of labelling misinformation.

To help our customers who want to buy British meat, Tesco has worked with the MLC to promote the distinctive MLC British Meat and British Quality logo on fresh pre-packed pork labels to demonstrate that the product has been reared and processed in the UK.

In addition to the logo – which highlights the meats British origins – Tesco gives customers additional labelling information stating that the product has been packed in the UK. We do not label meat as British if it has only been packed in the UK.

In line with Tescos clear labelling policy, we are in the process of repackaging and relabelling all own-label pigmeat products to make it clear where the product was reared, processed and packed.

Tesco is not in the business of misleading our customers, but providing them with the clear information to make an informed choice.

Chris Ling

Agricultural manager, Tesco, Tesco House, Delamare Road, Cheshunt, Hertfordshire.

Good image of milk tarnished

Just like Mrs Frost (Letters, Jan 28) I was horrified by the inappropriate and ridiculous figures purporting to show the fat content of milk and dairy products in the January issue of BBC Good Food Magazine. The National Dairy Council has advised the publication of the inaccuracy, and apparently the magazine is printing an amendment in its March issue.

Unfortunately, this sort of misconception and negative publicity tarnishing the good image of milk is all too common. As I am sure those farmers who voted for generic marketing realise, we must get on to the front foot. Just correcting misleading articles can only mitigate the damage. Through generic marketing we have a way of presenting the positive facts about milks comparatively low fat content and relevance to todays consumers.

Since the farmers vote, the NDC has been busy reviewing research and consumer attitudes towards milk and preparing a clear marketing and advertising strategy to put milk back in its rightful place as an essential part of modern life.

Our aim, once the legislation is in place, is to start this campaign as soon as possible.

Andrew Ovens

Marketing manager, National Dairy Council, 5-7 John Princes Street, London.

See more