Archive Article: 2000/04/28

28 April 2000

Dairy unity is the only way ahead

Having read Malcolm Reads Talking Point (April 14) I can sympathise, having also sold my herd. I too have memories of hand milking Dairy Shorthorns. Malcolm is absolutely right to put the large part of the blame with us dairy farmers. We had a wonderful opportunity and blew it.

Supermarkets wont pay more for milk because they feel sorry for dairy farmers. We have just finished the year 38m litres over quota. What can be done?

Dairy farmers should acknowledge that they must act as one – the only way forward is from a position of strength. All direct suppliers should demand 2p/litre more for milk. If dairies say no, give notice to cancel contracts. And they should then join Milk Marques successors.

John Becvar

Little Goldsmith Farm, Blackboys, Uckfield, Sussex.

Blairs summit delivered little

I refer to your leading article (Opinion, April 7). Although Mr Blairs summit at 10 Downing Street promised much, it could have better been described as "Tonys Measly Morsels". Much was promised but little was delivered. UK monetary policy is being directed at maintaining parity with the US dollar with the help of a substantial premium in UK interest rates. But the agricultural economy demands that the £ is aligned to the Euro and that interest rates are brought into line with those of our European competitors.

The question which the government must decide is whether to break the connection with the US $ or to withdraw the UK from the EU Common Agricultural Policy. Their present dithering attitude will undermine the confidence of a once proud and efficient industry in a similar manner to what has happened at Rover Cars but on a much larger scale.

The government also underestimates the position of farmers in the economy and social structure of the countryside. I have recently been engaged in a study into rural diversification and was somewhat surprised to find how important the farming community is to the countryside.

The rural environment is totally governed by the relative prosperity of agriculture. It is probable that the alternative land uses of tourism and forestry will benefit most if agriculture is prosperous.

If a government decides to assist agriculture financially, it is most important that such financial assistance is paid with a minimum of costs of administration and deductions so that farmers can plan their investment programmes with confidence.

It is the expenditure of the farmer and his family and staff which does so much to encourage other small businesses in the countryside.

Unfortunately, the Blair Package satisfies none of these points as it does not define long term UK monetary policy with lower interest rates. Much of this package will be siphoned off in administration charges or additional bureaucratic requirements.

Unless the government is prepared to look into the many problems of agriculture more seriously they will encourage a more hostile countryside environment. They may also jeopardise the food production, which has supplied the 95% of our urban population with the quantity and quality of food which may soon no longer be sustainable.

Arnold Pennant,

Nant Gwilym, Tremeirchion, St Asaph, Denbighshire.

Not proposing instant cull

As breeders of quality beef, I do not think that Philip and Colin Saunders (Letters, Mar 24) have understood the argument that may support a cull of older cows.

BSE began in the dairy herd and most cases were among dairy cows. But since these cows have such a short life, the majority of cases started to come from the suckler herd. It has been mentioned that we will not get our full world market back until cases fall below 20 per year. The estimate for 2000 is 1100 cases and falling by up to 45%/year.

Suckler producers should be wary of being left holding the baby when the dairy herd has no cases of BSE.

If consumers at home or abroad perceived that quality British beef came from the only cows with BSE, all the effort put into promoting quality beef could be wasted.

Perhaps, beef farmers would be prudent to consider a cull of older cows rather than risk a market collapse. Robert Forster is to be thanked for bringing the subject out into the open. A herd of cows is not built overnight and if we are forewarned we can prepare ourselves and avoid another disaster.

He is not proposing that all cows born before Sept 1996 are slaughtered this year, only that we watch carefully what is happening and be prepared to accept a cull in the future. That will allow us to clear BSE from the UK and avoid the position where the suckler herd becomes too closely associated with the disease.

Duff Burrell.

Arguments against ACCS

My opinion of the ACCS is it is unfair, unworkable and unnecessary.

It is unfair because it only applies to home-produced crops. It is unnecessary because arable farmers have never produced crops which have caused any food scares.

It is unworkable because it has to rely on record-keeping and obviously every record kept is in accordance with the ACCS requirements. These are false and short of policing a farm every day the whole scheme relies on the trust and honesty of the farmer.

Eric Bell,

Grange Cottage, Anchor Road, Terrington St Clement, Kings Lynn, Norfolk.

Dont forget to include inflation

In your Contractor Special (Machinery, Mar 4), the consultant Tom Chapman was right to give the true cost of farm machinery. Many have little or no idea what their new tractor, plough or combine costs per acre. Even Mr Chapman missed inflation in an otherwise excellent breakdown. The sale value has to be reduced by the average inflation since the machine was purchased. Otherwise it will be treated as profit.

We paid £30,000 for a 1988 Claas 116 CS combine for the 1993 harvest. If we changed it now, after seven harvests, it would sell for £13,500. But £5760 of that would be inflation. After all, inflation means paying more for the same goods or services. Therefore, gaining from it cannot be treated as profit. Even so, our combine fixed costs are less than half those quoted. And because we will keep the combine for another seven years, the costs will fall even further.

To do that, you dont need qualifications. My nephew Pete and I were both self-taught, and you dont need expensive tools. £100 each for a big lathe, 6ft guillotine and 5ft pyramid rolls; £900 for 275 amp Mig and 280 amp oil cooled welders. £750 for band saw and radial drill (2") plus new gas cutters. If its made of steel, we can make it.

George Scales

Scales Farms Limited, Cobblers Pieces, Abbess Roding, Ongar, Essex.

Annual testing best to hit TB

It is unbelievable that MAFF, Prof Bourne, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all, are attempting to understand whether cows catch TB from other cows. The recent second Bourne report was printed in part in The Veterinary Record. Amazingly, it cites several key references which explain simply why cows do pass TB to other cows. The point is that with a low dose of TB, via natural spread, tubercle lesions stay latent for a time. Only when they have spread to the visible lesion stage are cows highly infectious. So early cases do not pass on TB efficiently, but later on they do. It takes an average of 11 months for lesions to get going, but, on annual testing, more than 75% of cows have small lung lesions. Over half of these only have a single lesion under 1cm across, which is easily missed at abattoir inspection. That is why annual tests work – it removes them before they get highly infectious.

On the badger research front, it is a case of jobs for the boys. The classic studies of TB in cattle show they catch it via breathing in the bugs, and a minimum dose of 400,000 bacilli is required, but far more if ingested. And so badger sputum or urine is an unlikely source of TB for cows.

Martin Hancox

29 St Peter Street, Tiverton.

Bloodsports not behind hostility

How naive of Heather Searle (Letters, Mar 23) to place so much blame on bloodsports, and in particular foxhunting, for public hostility to farming.

If bloodsports had been banned 100 years ago, it would have done nothing to prevent subsidies, BSE, GM crops or the decline of so many ground-nesting birds. All of those factors are the real reasons farmers are so out of favour with some of the public and most of the tabloids.

K Johnson

5 The Folly, Longborough, Moreton-in-Marsh, Glos.

Strive to keep starlings alive

Although starlings are a localised problem on some dairy farms (Letters, Mar 17) this should have been less common in recent years, especially since farm buildings containing foodstuffs were required to be bird-proof. It is likely that such problems as do occur are caused by depletion of natural food supplies, causing starlings to congregate in areas where food is plentiful.

The starling has declined nationally by 58% over the last 30 years, according to survey information from the British Trust for Ornithology, and we therefore feel strongly that non-lethal means of reducing the problem should be used where necessary. I would be happy to hear from any farmers who have been able to do this. The local Agricultural Department Office may be able to give farmers a source of advice on non-lethal methods of protecting foodstuffs.

Finally, your readers should be aware that the only approved methods of control are shooting, cage trapping or netting. The use of non-approved methods would be illegal.

Richard Winspear

RSPB, The Lodge, Sandy, Beds.

GM evaluation is wide-ranging

Peter Lundgrens comments (Talking Point, Mar 17) on farm-scale evaluations of GM herbicide tolerant are misinformed.

The trials are designed to assess the impacts of GM herbicide tolerant crops on wildlife. These impacts are likely to be largely as a result of herbicide regimes affecting plants and invertebrates in and around the fields, which will affect food resources available for birds and mammals. Mr Lundgren asserts that the evaluations are not scientifically valid without justification.

This is probably the most carefully designed research programme ever concerning agriculture and the environment. Its quality is guaranteed by the independent Scientific Steering Committee and by the need to subject all results to peer-reviewed scientific journals. His observation that the evaluations assess only the effects of herbicide is also untrue. The project considers the entire management system surrounding these crops.

His comment that no attempt is made to assess whether GM leaves the site, refers, I assume, to pollen flow. Gene flow is being monitored in the project; moreover, it is known that GM pollen behaves in the same way as pollen from the equivalent crops. Thus, gene flow can take place from maize to other crops, but cannot transfer to wild plants in Britain as none are closely related.

Gene flow can take place from oilseed rape to other crops too but not to organic crops, as organic rape is not grown. Gene flow takes place rarely with wild relatives and there are no signs that the herbicide tolerant gene becomes established in wild populations from oilseed rape. The GM beet crops are not allowed to flower, so pollen transfer cannot take place.

We are looking at soil seed banks, but studies on soil animals and microbes are best suited to other experimental systems. As for the comparison with BRIGHT, the projects work at different scales, measure different things and have different objectives. The farm-scale evaluations are concerned with the ecological effects, BRIGHT about crop management.

The reason to continue with the trials is the same as it always was. The government requires information about the environmental impact of these crops before deciding whether or not to allow their commercial use in Britain. Farm-scale evaluations provide the only basis for separating science from spin.

Dr Les Firbank,

Project co-ordinator, farm-scale evaluations of GM crops, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Merlewood Research Station, Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria.

Advice at odds with regulations

I read an article in the Grass and Forage supplement (Mar 10) entitled Sheep – clamp and not bale. Some of the advice is not only misleading but likely to place a farmer who follows it in court.

I refer to Mr Kellys description of how to go about producing field silage. He refers to the possible use of concrete and hardcore, and talks about pit construction.

In England and Wales, field silage is subject to the Control of Pollution (Silage, Slurry, and Agricultural Fuel Oil) Regulations 1991 as amended 1997. In Scotland, field silage is not allowed. In order to qualify as field silage it must be unbaled silage made on open ground, and there should be no form of excavation work, floors, or walls on the site. In addition the site must be notified to the Environment Agency at least 14 days before it is used for the first time. And it must be at least 10m away from watercourses, ditches or land drains, and at least 50m away water sources used for drinking, food preparation or in farm dairies.

More detailed advice can be obtained found in the Guidance Note for Farmers prepared by the DoE and Welsh Office and obtained direct from a local Environment Agency office.

Steve Woods

The Environment Agency, Exminster House, Miller Way, Exminster, Devon.

Great news for pulse growers

Your issue of Mar 31 contained five items of interest to present and potential pulse growers.

First there was the article (Opinion) that predicted a boost to home-grown pulses due to their GM-free status.Then we had the report on the confusion in the feed trade on GMstandards (Livestock), followed by the "New dawn for UKpulses?"(Arable). Also there was the move back to beans by Devon barometer grower Mark Stevens (Arable), with finally the reference to the value of PGROadvice in the report from the University of Nottingham.

These items should then be linked with the buoyant state of the pulse market. BEPAprices for the residue of the 99 harvest crops are more than £90/t for feed use and premiums for quality niche markets. Growers should look carefully at the merits of peas and beans and monitor their progress together with that of new pulse crops including winter and spring lupins and soya beans. Then, growers can exploit their attributes for harvest 2001.


Diversify – but just not here

I agree wholeheartedly with "Whats wrong with horses" (Letters, Mar 24). We too are unable to diversify into horses due to living in our home which has an agricultural occupancy condition on it.

It seems our local authority and councillors take no notice of Tony Blairs impassioned speeches for farmers to diversify, and continue to consider planning applications with a 1950s mindset. They seem to prefer living in a museum and do not want anything to disturb the status quo.

Horses are not aliens in the countryside; it is their natural habitat. If redundant barns can be turned into upmarket homes for commuters with city jobs, why cant someone who wants to use their barns for horses be allowed to earn a living in this way? After all, it would generate local jobs and benefit the economy.

Our local authority insists we continue to farm our 4 acres or get farm workers jobs in our locality with no regard to the present agricultural crisis. Or we shall be open to an enforcement action to remove us from our property.

We have submitted planning applications to diversify into horse enterprises and even asked for the condition to be removed. Each time it has been refused. It seems the agricultural occupancy condition is just being used as an indiscriminate weapon against us. Mr Blair, we give up!

D & P A Spencer

Bridleways, Sandy Lane, Old Coach Road, Bishops Wood, Staffs.

Captive-bolt is not killing tool

Your article Humane Despatch (Livestock, Mar 3) gave cause for concern and I wish to make clear the situation with regard to the on-farm use of captive-bolt equipment.

The article referred to a "captive-bolt humane killing tool". Strictly speaking, captive-bolt instruments are humane stunners not humane killers. Their use in isolation leaves the brain stem intact and this means that the animal is theoretically capable of at least recovering the breathing reflex. To ensure rapid death, stunning with captive-bolt equipment must always be followed by pithing which is the physical destruction of the brain steam by the insertion of a flexible rod through the hole left by the entry of the bolt. Another solution is exsanguination, which voids the carcass of blood by cutting the main vessels in the throat and neck. It is of paramount importance that all those using captive-bolt equipment understand that, as failure to kill an animal properly may lead to unnecessary suffering.

The feature goes on to say that the instrument can be used without a slaughtering licence. However, unless you are a veterinary surgeon, possession of a current slaughter licence is a statutory requirement in order to use a captive-bolt instrument for the routine culling of livestock; including casualty animals, which are not for the commercial furtherance of a farm business. Finally, slaughter licences cannot be obtained from the Humane Slaughter Association. Anyone wishing to be licensed for the use of captive-bolt equipment should contact his or her MAFF divisional office, or Meat Hygiene Service regional office.

For more information concerning humane destruction of livestock on-farm, please may I recommend our publications Captive-Bolt Stunning of Livestock and Humane Killing of Livestock Using Firearms. These are available from our organisation. We also produce a free leaflet entitled Human Dispatch and Disposal of Infant Calves. For further details, please call us (01582-831919).

CW Mason,

Chief technical officer, Humane Slaughter Association, The Old School, Brewhouse Hill, Wheathampstead, Herts.

Safety first with OP containers

Roger Cook of NOAH is ahead of himself or is in possession of inside information regarding the approval of safer OP containers. Otherwise, how can he claim (Livestock, Mar 24) that the Veterinary Products Committee, three months ahead of the decision, will take such action to clear the way for OP products to be back on the market by autumn. This is extraordinary confidence by the spokesperson for the chemical companies on a decision still a long way off. Such a statement suggests the licensing process for the re-licensing of OP dips is not what it should be.

New packaging is being submitted in May for licensing approval and a month later will be re-licensed. Is a month sufficient time for safety tests to ensure users will be under no threat to their health when they use the product? Or, as is normal, will the data submitted by the manufacturers be all that is required for licensing approval by a group of scientists sitting in a committee room without any practical experience of handling OP concentrate?

This decision, in the light of the evidence of chronic ill health in farmers exposed to OP dip, is important. Who will carry the can when the first case occurs of ill health as a result of exposure to OPs by contact with the new containers? It will no doubt be the farmer and his family not the VPC in the safety of their committee room.

Brian Andrews

Farragon, Carsie, Perthshire.

Facts missing in collection story

I write to express my disappointment about your article "Action as Black Plastic Mound Grows and Grows" (Machinery, Mar 10).

Working for South Lakeland District Council as an environment technician, I had phone calls from numerous farmers when the scheme collapsed in 1996. I did the research and passed it to various people, including the NFU and nothing happened.

A year later, farmers were still ringing the council and the Tenant Liaison Officer for North West Water contacted the council. We agreed we would have collections after the council did some research.

The first collection organised by South Lakeland District Council and North West Water for the tenant farmers at Hawes Water proved time was wasted going to individual farms. Also farmers did not put any effort into the collection.

I decided to use auction mart sites. The first collection at Sedbergh Auction Mart, and other collections, proved successful. These collections proved farmers are willing to pay a contribution according to the size of load and put effort into taking the waste to a local collection site.

But problems arose when the Lake District National Park and North West Water applied for landfill tax money from the Carlisle and Eden Environment Trust and started free collections. That was not sustainable. I could not apply for landfill tax money because we are a local authority.

The Cumbria Waste Management Environment Trust said the scheme needed to be Cumbria-wide in order to access money from the trust. The Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group was asked to take on the role to make a bid for landfill tax money.

The only council to contribute at the time your article appeared was South Lakeland District council not South Lakes Council.

The Bampton scheme was not a leader in the Cumbria Farm Plastic Recycling Scheme, it only developed with the landfill tax money applied for by North West Water. Solway Recycling was also omitted from the article.

After the collapse of the scheme there was so much demand in Dumfries and Galloway that the Farm Film Producers Group Collector set up Solway Recycling with the help of Solway Heritage and landfill tax money.

Ms M Blackstone

Environment technician, South Lakeland District Council, South Lakeland House, Lowther Street, Kendal, Cumbria.

Clip teeth only when necessary

With reference to your article (Livestock, Mar 17) on the need to clip piglets teeth in order to control greasy pig disease, the Cotswold Pig Development company would like to point out that it is not advocating the clipping of the teeth of weaned pigs.

Under UK legislation, teeth clipping must not be performed as a routine, but is permitted where a need can be identified, but only if performed within seven days of birth. Further, under the major quality assurance scheme operating in England and Wales (Assured British Pigs), teeth clipping can be performed only within 72 hours of birth.

Cotswold Pig Development Company wholly endorses these limits, but still maintains that the clipping of piglets teeth within the first 72 hours of life is a necessary and helpful technique in limiting skin damage leading to greasy pig disease. That is irrespective of whether that damage occurs before or after weaning.

A P Bloor

Cotswold Pig Development Co Ltd, Rothwell, Market Rasen, Lincs.

Leptospirosis is very real threat

I was interested to read about the road show being run by the Womens Farming Union and Schering Plough Animal Health to raise awareness about leptospirosis (Opinion and Farmlife, Mar 10).

Your readers should be reminded about the very real threat from this disease not just to humans and farm livestock but also to dogs. Just over two years ago, my five-year-old black Labrador, which was a working gun dog as well as a close companion, was taken ill two days after a shoot on a friends farm.

He had been given his annual boosters, which include an inoculam against leptospirosis, only six months before, but it was four days before my vets took a blood test and another two days before they diagnosed leptospirosis. By that stage, he had acute jaundice, caused by the disease. Four days later, he was dead.

It was concluded that he had been bitten on one toe by an infected rat, or had come into contact with rat urine. I have since been told by a MAFF vet that the annual canine boosters only give limited protection against leptospirosis, although no other vet had ever told me that, and that dogs likely to come into contact with the disease should be inoculated against it twice a year. Coincidentally, the boosters were manufactured by Schering-Plough.

T. Woodward

4 Wickham Place, The Square, Lenham, Kent.

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