Archive Article: 2000/03/31

31 March 2000

Blockades did the business

There is a lot of sporadic protesting going on in advance of the summit with Tony Blair. If the outcome of the summit is not adequate the protesting should escalate.

Last year, pig men persuaded supermarkets to talk by blockading two of the largest depots at the same time. What is needed now is to be able to blockade nearly every depot of each supermarket in turn. They might even listen as well as talk if none of their lorries moved for two hours. On Sunday night Tesco was blockaded in Kent. Was there any attempt to involve farmers in other areas?

To do this, milk, beef, sheep, pig, poultry, arable and horticulture producers must join in. A simple message should be "Farmers need to be profitable to live".

Fred Henley

At an organic disadvantage

British farmers certainly lose out on organics. Why is 70-80% of organic produce imported? It is not just bloody-minded conventional farmers or lack of cash for conversion. The EU sets a minimum requirement for organic production, which we choose, in a typically British way, to exceed.

The result of having less flexible rules and a longer conversion period is to put British organic production at a disadvantage. Of course, most organic produce is imported. It is cheaper and easier to grow elsewhere in Europe.

The EU accepts the organic regime in Hungary, as achieving the minimum standards required. Under that regime organic production can be rotated around the farm (one-year conversion, one-year organic crop and then back to conventional cropping on a field by field basis).

Organic agriculture is not sustainable. There is not enough land to feed a global population organically, and nothing which relies on a finite fossil fuel supply is truly sustainable.

The most disappointing feature of organic agriculture today is its unwillingness to embrace GM technology. Here we have a real opportunity to reduce the total impact of agriculture on the planet, while increasing the nutritional value of many basic foods. This ought to be at the core of organic thinking. Instead it has been overshadowed by the quasi-religious dogma of those opposed to GM and new science.

Organic agriculture is a marketing opportunity, which offers the wealthy a way to feel good about themselves. By its very nature, less efficient use of solar energy, organic agriculture is not going to save the planet.

WRN Tapp

St Nicholas Court Farms, St Nicholas-at-Wade, Birchington, Kent.

Switch success lifts depression

When I read the comments made by Rob Neil (Letters, Mar 17) I cant help thinking that my decision to change to organic farming methods (something that I have been considering for many years and only made possible by the cash on offer from MAFF) must be the correct thing to do.

Since I took the decision I have been intrigued by the number of my farming friends who secretly admit that they have looked at turning some of their land over to organic production (probably for the wrong reasons). It is this that has got the agchem industry worried.

The fact is that farmers are primarily out to make a profit – sorry living – and they will find the easiest way to do it. If there is more profit, or less to be lost, by producing 30cwt/acre than 4t/acre, so what? If that can be done in a more environmentally friendly way, so much the better.

Unfortunately, it takes a depression, for that is what farming is in, to make people stop, stand back and take a fresh look at the road ahead and decide which way to go.

But why are so many people so angry because the organic producers are making a success of things? Of course, like all things, some will fall by the wayside, but it is necessary for the anti-organic lobby to grasp at the few that do to try to prove their point?

If like the GMO lobby, Mr Neil is really worried about the worlds starving millions, he need not worry: Should the politicians ever have enough bottle to tackle the problem, I have no doubt that if the farmers of the world can see some profit in it, starvation would disappear in a matter of years.

David Redgate

Coney Grey Farm, Mansfield Road, Brinsley, Notts.

Yorkshire group targets converts

Thank you for publicising the start of the Yorkshire Organic Farmers Group (Business, Mar 17). However there are some errors in the article.

I am not a farmer but carry out management advisory work both in my own right and for the Organic Advisory Service. Secondly, I help run the farm near Boroughbridge for a client of mine.

The aim of the Yorkshire Organic Farmers Group is to enable initially three meetings a year to be held on organic farms in the region to help those in the process of conversion. The secondary aim is to allow local organic farmers to get in touch with like-minded neighbours to help them work together, for example exchanging fodder for FYM.

For the £60 fee you will also receive a subscription to Elm Farm Research Centre magazine, Bulletin.

The group will be under the umbrella of the Organic Advisory Service, the UKs premier organic consultancy organisation, based at the Elm Farm Research Centre for the past 20 years.

Mark Palmer

Milk malaise has answer

As the wife of a dairy farmer, I feel very strongly about the way the industry is going. People say there is no light at the end of the tunnel, but I disagree. There could be a solution.

You only have to look back in history to find the answer. In the 1930s the MMB was set up because farmers couldnt get a decent price for their milk. Then, after deregulation, farmers could sell their milk to any dairies with the attraction of high price, only to find that within a couple of years it was to drop to below the cost of production, causing many farmers to go out of business.

With the setting up of sons of Milk Marque, Zenith, Central and Axis, this could be an opportunity for farmers to group together. Some would say that this was madness, but would it be? I can hear you saying, "Im not going to leave my contract to go back there, the milk price is lower than Im getting." And so the dairies win again, dictating the price once more.

If those dairy farmers with direct supply contracts were to resign and join these groups, then the dairies would have to negotiate with the farmers which, to me, seems like a much better idea.

On the other hand, we could just stay as we are, waiting for another drop in price, and eventually go out of business.

I know which I would prefer.

Mrs M Cannon

Swindon, Wilts.

Fuel price in US up nearly 40%

I note with interest the comments of your American correspondent Alan Guebert, concerning the needs of American farmers to receive emergency assistance (Features, Mar17).

There are good reasons for this because the price of gas in US has risen alarmingly this year and is likely to rise further. For a country which is used to paying less than $1/gal for gasoline, present prices have risen to $1.40/gal which is a rise of nearly 40% in less than a year.

The other good reason for paying state aid to farmers this year is because it is an election year in the US and, as a major food-exporting nation, no politician wishes to upset their farmers at this time. No doubt they could argue that the World Trade talks, which are due to re-open in Geneva soon, were not designed to restrict the ability of American farmers to produce foodstuffs at lower prices than anywhere else in the world.

The WTO talks are designed to undermine other countries agricultural systems in such a manner that there will always be good market for raw materials or technology from USA.

I have just returned from visiting California and they are really concerned about the increasing price of gasoline there. But we must also realise that the price of road fuel in this country is five times greater. Their cost of $1.40/gal is equivalent to about 17.5p/litre. UK prices are now about 80p/litre. The other interesting feature was the changing attitude of American farmers to biotechnology.

It is most likely that plantings of GM maize will be considerably less than last year as more food companies now wish to purchase conventional products only.

The reduction in growing GM Soya beans will be less marked. However, US farmers are concerned if there will still be a market for these products when they are harvested and sold later this year.

Arnold Pennant

Nant Gwilym, Tremeirchion, St Asaph, Denbighshire.

Vote against Unigate merger

All dairy farmers and Dairy Crest shareholders should vote against the merger with Unigate. Dairy farmer selling groups were stopped from having more than 12.5% share of the market.

If this merger went ahead it would lead to two companies having a 90% share of the milk buying in this area. Why is that not a monopoly? It is not going to lead to cheaper food or more choice for the consumer.

Dairy Crest is looking to take on £100m of Unigates debt and spend £65m modernising old plant, which would cost them over £12m a year. Any further cuts in the farmers milk price will cause permanent damage to the countryside and country life.

D M Drake

Snaggs Farm, E Knoyle, Salisbury.

Guernsey has electronic ID

Regarding your editorial (Leader, Mar 10) on electronic identification for Scottish cattle, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the island of Guernsey will have completed its EID programme covering all cattle within several weeks. This will make us the worlds first, not Scotland!

Alan le Patourel

La Ramee de Bas, St Peter Port, Guernsey, Channel Islands.

Dairy nutrition mixed message

I must write to expose the duplicity (Livestock, Mar 10) of Mr Gardner. I have heard him talk on several occasions during the past three years discussing dairy nutrition.

Each time he has praised high input and concentrate use systems and frowned upon extended grazing – even as late as last summer. This article contradicts his theory.

On the last occasion I was told: "The less said about extended grazing and low-cost, Kiwi-type systems the better." Far better was to go for high yields and push my cows with a variety of concentrates was the message.

RM Smart

Greenway Farm, Dowlish Ford, Ilminster, Somerset.

GM evaluation waste of cash

It was refreshing to read Peter Lundgrens well-argued Talking Point (Mar 17) on GM technology, particularly his assessment of the farm-scale evaluation trials.

These are indeed not scientifically valid and take into account only the impact of the herbicide. In addition, they are being conducted by industry which is hardly independent. A fact sheet, produced by MAFFs joint food safety and standards group, states that "the evaluations will take four years and will ensure that the introduction of genetically modified crops will take place safely". If, as this indicates, the introducing of GM crops is inevitable, the evaluation exercise would appear to be a waste of taxpayers money.

J Bower

Hon Secretary, The Farm and Food Society, 4 Willifield Way, London.

Dangerous to reveal GM sites

I was amazed to hear on the television that the so-called British government had decided to tell the country where the genetically modified crop tests were being held.

Do they not realise that the farmers who have these sites on their land are going to have to put up with more worries than ever?

There will be protesters to worry about as well as the poor state of the agricultural economy. We do not need this extra worry at any time, but particularly now.

DJ Hovard.

1 Rissington Rd, Bourton on the Water, Cheltenham, Glos.

GM trials are back-door ruse

The claims by companies producing GM crops, that field-scale trials are in the public interest are, to say the least, spurious. The widespread production of these crops in the USA and Canada has already proved to have no financial benefit for these farmers, because they are only able to survive by vast government grants which are increasing each year.

It is also interesting to note that since these crops entered the US food chain there has been an alarming epidemic of obesity and since these unproven products came to Britain later, obesity is becoming an increasing problem here.

GM trials are a back-door method of forcing these crops into the food chain. The British public doesnt want GM foods and has forced supermarkets to supply GM-free food. If British farmers rejected GM crops they will gain public support and protect their livelihoods from floods of GM imports produced by large overseas and East European low cost competitors.

Remember scientists are not always right, they gave us OPs, thalidomide and Russias leading scientists developed Chernobyl. Unnatural practices lead to unnatural problems.

William E Lucy

Dairy Cottage, Largs Farm, Twynholm, Kirkcudbright.

Set-aside solves IACS dilemma

Following your letters from Dr Mark Avery and AJ Coleman (Letters, Mar 17) regarding IACS regulations concerning field margins/hedgerows, it most surely would appear to be in direct conflict with present conservation concerns. Perhaps an idea to solve the dilemma, given that there were sufficient areas on a holding to qualify, would be to register it as set-aside. These areas, of course, would be over and above the current statutory amounts. Yes, I have indeed already spoken to my MP, as Mr Coleman suggested.

CJ Coyle

Butland, Modbury, Ivybridge, Devon.

Image of Brazil is unrealistic

Although its encouraging that farmers weekly is increasingly addressing farming issues worldwide, I was troubled by David Richardsons article (Mar 17) on Brazil. His claim that: "It appeared most Brazilian farmers could make profits even at todays depressed commodity prices" is extraordinary. While, as he admits, the FW tour did not see everything, the phrase "there is poverty but there is also great wealth" hides the levels of disparity and the scale of the poverty. And it gives an unrealistic picture of Brazilian farming. That they saw "few farms of less than 500ha" says less about Brazil than it does the type of tour being taken.

The overwhelming majority of Brazilian farmers are poor and the countrys wealth is concentrated within a very small strata of society. Mr Richardson refers to the processes of clearance and reclaiming as affording huge profit-making potential for Brazilian farmers. But those processes dispossessed thousands of farmers and Indian communities, leaving them landless and poverty stricken, as well as causing untold ecological damage.

Is this worthy of the chairman of a leading farming and environment organisation?

A visitor to the UK who only visited large-scale, high-input industrial farms would no doubt leave with the impression that UK agriculture is doing well, probably concluding that measures are required to limit the potential threat posed by UK exports.

If misrepresentation of our predicament is not acceptable, the same must apply to others.

Dr Matt Smith

Farmers World, The Arthur Rank Centre, NAC, Stoneleigh Park, Warks.

German exports bring beef relief

It is reassuring to those involved in British agriculture that Germany has, although belatedly, agreed to begin importing British beef once more.

This small measure by the Germans is a step in the right direction and reflects the dedicated and persistent efforts by such representatives of the Welsh farmers as Peter Rogers (the Conservative assembly spokesman on agriculture) who has worked tirelessly over a long period to highlight the plight of Welsh farmers.

The beef industry is of such importance to the farmers of Wales and to many others like ourselves who are involved in agriculture. It is to be hoped that this small gesture by the Germans will encourage a wider revival throughout Europe.

Morgan Evans

28-30 Church Street, Llangefni, Anglesey.

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