Archive Article: 2000/03/24

24 March 2000

EUcorrupt & immoral community

Mr Malcolm Whitaker (Letters, Mar 3) draws strange comparisons, such as the Vietnam War and the persecution of the Huguenots, for his uncharitable jibe at farmers who criticise our membership of the EU.

The "countless billions" farmers have received in grants and subsidy do not justify the end. First, every £1 we get back from the EU comes out of £2 we give it in the first place. Second, what money we receive is for schemes that suit our "partners" rather than us. If we administered all of our money, we would put it to better use. I doubt if we would encourage farmers to grow flax that is not needed and then force them to harvest it just so that it can be burned before the subsidy is paid.

Third, we would no longer have the shame of being party to a corrupt and morally indefensible system that is built largely on fraud, the national greed and self-interest of the stronger members and bribery of the weaker. Add to that the exploitation of economies in the developing world.

Our exit from the EU would resolve the problem of the aid Mrs P Johnston bemoans (Letters, Mar 3) we have lost as a result of the fall in the euro, since we would deal only in British £s. As for some "racist, small-minded people" being able to force the government to hold on to our nationality, what authority has any government to relinquish it? The present threat to our nationhood status originated in a vote of 25 years ago, when the country signified by a small majority that it did not wish to withdraw from the common market the government of the day had signed it up to 18 months previously. Hardly a popular mandate for forcing us all eventually to become fluent in German.

Tony Stone

1 Home Park, Oxted, Surrey.

Not democracy as we know it

Malcolm Whitaker ends his letter (Mar 3) in support of our EU membership by speculating the demise of British agriculture if Britain ended its membership.

Are we not already down this road while still members of the EU? Every sector is in meltdown with no sign of improvements. Whether one is for or against EU membership, the fundamental, indisputable fear in this great empire-building experiment is the democratic deficit which exists at the heart of this political monster.

We are ruled by unallocated, unaccountable commissioners and judges and the elected council of ministers, where our representatives are ruled by qualified majority voting, in which the UK has 10 out of 87 votes. The electorate no longer has any sanction over the people who rule them. This is not democracy as we know it.

June Lawson

Upper Hardwick, Glenogilvy, By Forfar, Angus.

Too affluent – thats a laugh

It is all very well for Tony Blair to tell us we must diversify but what with? Last year we knew we had to do something if we were to survive as a small dairy farm bearing in mind the cost of leasing in quota and the falling milk price.

We decided to go into processing to add value to the milk because it cost more than we anticipated to bring the building up to environmental health standards. We still desperately need a pasteuriser and another chiller unit. When we applied for help under object 5B, we were told we didnt qualify because we live in an affluent area. Does anyone know of any affluent family farms? Or does anyone know of any help available?

Staffs farmer

Name and address supplied.

Pro-British is not being racist

I was astounded by Mrs P Johnstons letter (March 3). I am a second year BSc agriculture student who cannot believe that someone can write such an insulting letter. Aged 21, I am not small-minded or racist – just proud of the fact that I am British.

Modern agriculture and policy worries me. The movement towards European monetary union is only another step that the pro-Europeans wish to follow in order to take even more off us "small-minded" British citizens.

I am proud of our heritage and am sick of the dictatorship from our EU counterparts. Why cant we be left alone? Opinion polls say that most of us wish to stay out of the EMU and hang on to our nationality.

Mrs Johnston is wrong. I wish to follow a career in agriculture – it is my life and hopefully will be my livelihood. Please do not refer to the likes of me as racist and small-minded, I have a mind of my own and am proud of what I and the majority of British citizens believe.

Mr D Halliday

Market has failed farmers

I was interested to read the letter (Mar 10) from Mr Andrew Payne. Like Mr Payne I am a young person (aged 16) from a farming background – my parents run a family farm in Aberdeenshire. I agree with him that agriculture is in crisis, that the government is not doing nearly enough to help, and that people in urban areas are largely misinformed about the farming industry. However, I would contend that this last problem is largely due to the countryside movement.

The free market has failed farmers, as it failed the miners, the steelworkers and the shipbuilders before them. Blood sports are at best an irrelevancy. With the association of the two questions under the blanket heading of "rural issues" the danger is that urban people will associate a national industrys fight for survival with the practice of killing what they regard as cute, fluffy animals for pleasure.

Fox hunting is, quite rightly, regarded by the vast majority of townspeople with revulsion. The publicity claimed by the Countryside Alliance, and similar groups, means that all farmers will be tarred with the same brush. The farming community should ensure that the two issues are considered separately if we are not to be rewarded with hostility and derision from the general public.

Heather Searle

Nether Hawkhillock, Hatton, Peterhead, Aberdeenshire.

Cows with genetic merit

You report the National Beef Association suggesting that in a year or two we cull all old cows over 10 years of age (News, Mar 3, Livestock, Mar 10).

Robert Forster has overlooked the fact that pedigree suckler cows last a long time. We have Aberdeen Angus pedigree cows aged about 10 and we would not cull them because of their genetic merit.

They are providing young heifers to increase the size of our herd. If Mr Forster continues to recommend culling these valuable animals, he will find no support from us in the future.

Philip and Colin Saunders

Higher Colmer, Modbury, Ivybridge, Devon.

Join crusade to stop rural slide

I am writing to appeal to farmers or people connected with the farming industry to contact me. I am trying to do something to halt the current slide in British agriculture by standing up and fighting. Anyone who has strong views, individual stories to tell or feels enough is enough could be useful to our movement.

The way forward is self-representation by the farming industry. I implore you to join me on this crusade for the countryside. By pooling resources and ideas the British farming industry can box its way out of this corner. The key is publicity and education. Most people have no idea what pressures we face every day as modern farmers. British business is booming and we need to make people realise how severe the recession in rural Britain is starting to bite. Show your support by contacting me at the address below or by e-mailing me at

Due to the dire situation in British farming my dream of running the family farm is in severe jeopardy. I have the organisation and communication skills to help pull our industrys strong views together and to turn them into a real force. So pick up those pens and PCs keyboards.

Tim Brown

Waterley Farm, Waterley Bottom, North Nibley, Dursley, Gloucs.

Real aim of supermarkets

UK farmers are operating at the mercy of supermarkets, which aim solely to make money for themselves. They say that they want to provide for customers but we know their real aim. Theres one chain aiming to provide GM-free food. The others hypocritically demand farm assurance, while entrepreneurs set up assurance scheme businesses to be bought and sold.

Politicians of all colours tell us we are in a global market and we must accept that ethos. But they know that many products from other countries are heavily subsidised in discreet ways.

The latest answer for battered UK farmers is to go organic with supermarkets pushing the idea. The more production there is, the cheaper the products will become, they claim laughably.

Whats the answer? UK Farms Marketing – a grand title but absolutely efficient with strong links and even ties with European co-ops.

This type of undertaking requires commitment, loyalty, and discipline from farmers. Thats exactly what supermarkets will eventually demand from all their suppliers, with them in control of us.

The potential from this co-op is phenomenal. All farm products could be marketed using specialists to deal with buyers from feed mills, dairies and supermarkets and, just as important, a facility and willingness to deal with small operators.

Once the aim and spirit of this venture is organised, the buying power could be exploited. For example, British cars sold cheaper on the continent than at home could be re-imported. It may seem naïve but it could be a way of reclaiming our own destiny.

John Fradgley

Shooters Hill Cottage, Wintbridge, Pontefract.

NFUs skills in hi-jacking

It disappoints me that the English NFU continues to claim ideas it has picked up during discussions with other farmers and industry organisations, many of them within MAFF buildings, as its own.

Nothing demonstrates it skill at hi-jacking promising initiatives and concepts better than its recent efforts to suggest it has led the way in persuading MAFF that the Krebs cull will take years to complete. And that cattle farmers with TB infected herds outside the Krebs trial areas ought to be allowed, through government issued licence if necessary, to protect their stock by culling diseased badgers.

When the NBA formed its TB committee 18 months ago the NFU vigorously defended the Krebs trials. It was left to more nimble organisations to challenge this well-rooted concept and set in train the idea that cattle deserved protection from TB carriers too.

Fortunately, MAFF has listened and established a wide range of listening posts, including the all industry TB Forum, at which other ideas on limiting the spread of the runaway TB epidemic are discussed.

So its galling to see the NFU promoting information that it gained through this open debate as its own. And then slanting it through the media so it is seen to be the only source of original thinking in the entire TB debate.

Robert Robinson

Chairman, National Beef Association, The First, Blackmore Park Road, Malvern, Worcs.

GM food is not the bogeyman

All those not in favour of GM crops, please take your clothes off. That is because most cotton has been genetically modified.

If those opposed to GM foods could identify what has been harmful then we could assess the risk. But I dont think anyone has died of GM food yet. I would prefer the protesters to divert their enthusiasm to more harmful products such as tobacco, alcohol or petrol.

The flood victims in Mozambique will not be too concerned whether the emergency food aid is GM or not. Food is available as a surplus only because of yield increases due to better plant growing techniques including GM. It is much easier to protest on a full belly. Developing countries anxious to feed their populations would be unlikely to give the GM opposition much confidence either. When times get tough the protest evaporates.

There are more serious food issues to address and these are the amount of foodstuff the UK imports, and the controls needed on imported foods. We have stringent controls on home-produced foods and the Public Health Department does a good job. But its the imported food that worries me not genetically modified food.

How do we test food for genetic modification? We are good at testing milk but GM foods would need a new department just to monitor it.

G Wynne

Glenshamrock Farm, Auchinleck, Ayrshire.

BLUP figures are suspect

Over recent weeks several articles in your excellent magazine have praised the use of EBVs when selecting beef bulls. That has come from Signet experts. I should like to remind potential beef bull buyers that BLUP is only a computer program and the outpourings should be taken only as a guide.

The figures are suspect especially for those breeds like the Hereford and the Angus which have considerable Canadian influence. BLUP is not able to convert American BLUP figures to the Signet version. Those pedigree breeders who bring in bulls or semen have to wait many years before their imported bulls figures are anything like correct.

In many cases the bulls die before that happens. The early breeders who persuaded the MLC to create their own BLUP system did us a dis-service, as now there are at least three systems and no means of connecting them. The Australian Breedplan is by far the best system and I believe the Americans are moving towards an amalgamation with them. Where does that leave UK breeders?

Your article (Livestock, Feb 11) on beef AI and the Genus expert puts the price for a natural service calf at about £42. Perhaps an expensive Charolais or Limousin bull is being costed. If he was up to date he would be recommending a Hereford or Angus, as both breeds have a specialist beef sale through Waitrose, which shows a premium. I can only speak as a Hereford breeder, but there is a strong demand for cattle sired by a registered Hereford bull. Such a bull would cost about £2000 at the most, often less. The animal would cost no more than £150 a year to keep and would work for at least 7 years. Using the Genus formula each calf would cost less than £5, a saving of over £21 on AI and there would be far less hassle.

Graham Stratford

Aultoun Herefords, Annetts Farm, Farringdon, Alton, Hants.

More to it than just aerobic

I have noted FW dated Feb 18 contained a report on the MGA national silage competition which gave details of farms visited and which, in the notes highlighted as "competition lessons" stated that "additives are not necessary with well-chopped and consolidated maize".

I agree that good silo management is crucial if aerobic losses are to be kept to a minimum during storage and feed-out, and additives can only be of assistance in this matter. However, biological additives do bring beneficial effects with respect to reduced losses and enhanced animal performance.

A trial at IGER with the inoculant/enzyme preparation Maize-All from Alltech gave a significant reduction of 24% in ensiling losses.

A definitive paper on the subject of the value of inoculants in maize silage was actually presented at an MGA Conference (1997) by my friend and former colleague Prof Hans Honig and his colleagues from Braunschweig, Germany. This work revealed an increase in liveweight gain in beef animals of 6% or 75g/head/d as a result of treating silage with an inoculant. This would have been valued at 6.75p at 90p/kg and the cost of treating the 5.9kg of 35% DM silage would be less than 2p. A very satisfactory return on outlay!

I trust this will remind maize growers that additives should be chosen not just for improvements in aerobic stability but for increased conservation efficiency and animal performance.

Dr Mike Woolford

Oxford Biological Consultancy, 63 Mill Lane, Chalgrove, Oxford.

Whats wrong with horses?

Isnt it about time that Tony Blair gave some direction to local authorities in order to classify what is an agricultural income? I live in an agriculturally tied property of 4ha (10 acres) ideally situated to diversify into horse livery.

If I were to do so my local authority could prosecute me for non-compliance (making a living outside agriculture). I could end up with not only a criminal conviction but also eviction.

They claim that horses are not agricultural and yet, reading articles in the farming Press, it is obvious that this is one of the few growth industries for farmers and yet it is classified as a farm diversification project.

If a person is honestly making a living from the land they own, what does it matter if it is cows, sheep, horses, llamas, bison or whatever?

Should all of those of us who live in agriculturally tied properties form an action group? Our hands may be tied but we are not tongue-tied.

Name and address supplied

Why is the UK odd man out?

While studying the latest proposals to integrate flax and hemp into the arable area payments scheme, I was astounded at the commissions suggestion that the UK is in a unique position. Apparently we are the only country in the European community to have croppable land that is not registered as eligible to receive arable area aid.

It is inferred in other member states all cultivable land is eligible. Is this correct, and if so, why are UK farmers not in the same position? Were all countries treated equally when the current system of support was introduced?

Mark Shepheard

Laurence Gould Partnership, Office 10, The Old Yarn Mills Business Centre, Westbury, Sherborne.

Setting poison record straight

I am writing to correct the inaccuracy of your article "Turn a blind eye to bunnies at own risk" (Arable, Feb. 11). Although agreeing with the factual information in the first half of the article, we are astounded by the subjective references to the available forms of fumigants for rabbit control in the UK.

Cyanide and phosphene-generators are both vertebrate control agents with the potential to kill vertebrates including humans. There are effectively no differences in toxicity of the two product types. However, there are antidotes available for cyanide but none known for phosphene generating compounds.

There is inaccuracy in the quotes relating to the use of the phosphene-generators. Any prudent operator using the product will realise that respiratory protective equipment is required when handling and using the product.

We also question the reference to MAFF trials and are unable to find any reference to such trials. It is well known that power gassing with cyanide is the most effective and efficient method for treating warrens, especially large ones. This method is the preferred choice of professional operators.

Dr Roger Johnson

Managing Director Sorex.

Where is the evidence?

I read with astonishment Ms Fullertons comments (Letters, Mar 3) concerning the MDC meeting at Nottingham and its failure to recognise that the major reason for cows inability to conceive is lack of selenium (Mar 3).

Where is the scientific evidence from properly-conducted trials that correcting soil selenium levels will improve conception rates by up to 90%, improve mastitis, lameness and avoid difficult births? If only fertility problems in our high-yielding cows could be sorted out so simply. Trace elements are usually at the bottom of the list of factors affecting fertility.

Selenium is an important trace element and we should ensure that the cows needs are met along with all the other key nutrients. There are other more effective ways of supplementing rations than applying this potentially toxic trace element to land to increase soil levels.

David Peers

Bone Newydd, Llanbedrgoch, Anglesey.

Heavier breeds given raw deal

If you think your cattle have lost their value due to the capping of weights under the OTMS, which has also reduced the value of breeding and younger stock, lets do something about it. Please will you and your neighbouring farmers write to me as soon as possible stating if you are a member or a non member of the NFU and how it has affected your business.

Discrimination against the heavier breeds has been the major cause of this loss of value brought upon us by the government. And the NFU has allowed them to maintain it. All cattle farmers need compensating for this injustice.

Tony Mason

Hindsloders, Stonebridge Lane, Fulborn, Cambridge.

Radio portrays genuine anguish

Although not a regular listener to BBC Radio 4s The Archers, I tuned in on Friday, Mar 3 to hear auctioneer Christopher Norton on the BBC. The detail and politics were amazing to hear, and the heartbreak of a tenant being forced to sell his cows due to bankruptcy was too real for comfort.

I believe congratulations are due to the BBC for the portrayal. Just one criticism – who milks dairy cows just before a sale?

S Elmes

What difference would it make?

Could you let me know what difference it would have made to David Richardsons beet returns per ha, had he planted Monsanto GM seed? The seed costs £17.20/ha extra but gives 20% higher yield.

According to Davids article (Mar 3) 70% made £28/t (42t/ha on a 60t/ha crop) with 18t/ha having to carry a £1.10/t loss. That is £73.80/ha.

I ask in response to your article "Admirable Actions for GM Farm Trials" (Opinion, Mar 10) because I dont trust Monsanto. Last July I received a copy of The Gazette, Montreal. It had nothing but praise for Monsanto, and nothing but vicious condemnation for Britain and the EU.

In 91 column inches, an article by Monsanto did not state that it adds a hybrid terminator gene to all seed sold. I wonder why? My contribution explained that, like sugar beet, UK and EU oilseed is subject to WTO penalties for over-production. Therefore, anything which encourages farmers to grow more, can only benefit Monsanto, at the expense of European farmers. The Gazette, Montreal would not print, what I called An English Farmers View. I wonder why?

George Scales

Cobblers Pieces, Abbess Roding, Ongar, Essex.

Red tape chokes common sense

Its nearly a quarter of the way through the claim year and farmers have still not received full details of the beef extensification scheme. The brief information that has been distributed is inadequate.

Until we receive full details, how can we know if we have been compliant since Jan 1, 2000, or if we are breaking some trivial rule? The methods of demonstrating that you have remained inside a particular stocking level are such that it is no longer possible to use a simple word processing software package to list groups of animals.

The date of birth of each animal has to be used to check its age and hence a proportion of a livestock unit. The so-called simplified scheme is more complex than the full scheme since it requires farmers to remain below the threshold throughout the year as opposed to just the MAFF nominated days.

Until the full detail is released nobody will risk purchasing software, not that I have seen any advertised yet, apart from the photocopier necessary to send copies of passports. It is a farce. Even worse, MAFF has all the data to make these calculations without further information from most farmers thanks to BCMS and IACS returns. So why are we bothered by this dreadful red tape?

TRN Walford

Upton Bridge Farm, Long Sutton, Langport, Somerset.

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