Archive Article: 2000/05/12

12 May 2000

A dossier of crime in the countryside

Commentary on the Tony Martin case has reached a fever pitch. Many people who do not live in the countryside must be thinking that the underlying reality of rural crime does not justify the hullabaloo. On the contrary, rural crime and the fate of isolated victims has needed urgent attention from policy makers for years, but it has taken the Martin case to focus minds. Media attention will soon fade, but we must not allow the issues to be shelved.

To this end, the Countryside Alliance is compiling a dossier of serious crime incidents in rural areas and the adequacy of policing. We will analyse the information, and present this dossier to the Home Secretary during discussions of the Rural White Paper.

We invite rural dwellers who have experienced serious crime such as burglary and assault to send a brief account of the incident to us, stating whether they reported the incident, the distance to the nearest manned police station, and the response time, if applicable. We will treat replies in strict confidence.

Replies should be forwarded direct to Nigel Burke, head of Policy, Countryside Alliance, 367 Kennington Road, London SE11 4PT.

Mal Treharne

South west public relations officer, Aley Well, Aley, Over Stowey, Nr Bridgwater, Somerset.

Compensation for strong £

The strong value of sterling against the euro should entitle arable farmers to agrimonetary compensation. There are mechanisms in place to claim this as FW has highlighted.

In January you estimated that British arable farmers were due £18m for compensation for the effect on prices and another £38m for compensation for the effect on direct payments. At that point, £1 equalled 1.59 euro compared with 1.72 euro today. We arable farmers are therefore due £57m from the EU and UK government.

It will be a scandal if compensation to which we are entitled, and which the EU is willing to pay, is lost. Farmers need to make their voices heard. Sadly, the NFU, having gained extra funding for other sectors, has given up the fight for arable farmers.

It has been cowed by the "Oliver Walston" effect and seems to have no answer to Mr Walstons TV documentary. If all subsidies were abandoned throughout the EU it would lower land values and rents and provide opportunities. But since we have to compete within rules laid out by politicians then I expect Britain to do no less than the French or Germans when it comes to supporting agriculture.

The £ has risen 36% since its 1995 lows, more than half of that rise occurred before the election. Most of the rest occurred during the first year after the election. About 5 to 10% of sterlings rise is down to Euro weakness.

Every quarter for the past five years, the Bank of Englands inflation report has assumed that sterling will fall. Had the Bank of England assumed a rising £ then interest rates would have been much lower and paradoxically we would have a lower £.

Every arable farmer reading this letter should make their voice heard and urge the NFU to do its job and fight for what is just.

G Rennie

Stenton, St. Monans, Fife.

UK should put EU behind it

At long last people are acknowledging, as did Tony Stone and June Lawson in their excellent letters (Mar 24) that being in the EU is not good for British farming or the UK in general.

We British contribute £10-11bn/year for the privilege of membership of this club; about £1m/hour. In return, not only has CAP led to disaster for our farming, other policies have led to our fishing waters being plundered by foreign vessels, and our shipbuilding and coal industries being unable to compete with their subsidised continental counterparts.

EU accounts have not been passed by its own auditors for the past four years. Its Commissioners have been forced to resign en masse. Many of its leading European proponents, including Helmut Kohl, who was given the freedom of London, have also proved to be corrupt. Huge sums of money are unaccounted for by EU officials who grant themselves extravagant life-styles while imposing more red tape and directives on the rest of us.

We must question the judgement and standards of our own politicians, church leaders, and industrialists, the NFU and the CBI. In fact, all those who boast of wishing to be at the heart of Europe and who long to adopt the Euro.

Being in the exchange rate mechanism was a manifest disaster. It resulted in 3m unemployed, 1m home re-possessions, and enormous social problems. Having to leave it was a clear blessing. Yet there are still those who cannot wait for the chance to make the same mistake again, on an even greater scale, by joining a full economic and monetary union.

Britain has proved more than capable of managing its own affairs. The sooner we leave the EU the better it will be for all of us.

W Furrow

Blandford Forum, Dorset.

Last chance for dairy farmers

I recently joined an audience of 170 concerned dairy farmers in the Ur Valley Hotel, Castle Douglas. We were addressed by Ian Kerr of the Scottish NFU and John Loftus of the proposed Federation of Milk Producers. Both speakers gave informative talks and, in the case of John Loftus, a refreshing and directional point of view.

The demise of the UK dairy industry is very worrying and needs attention now. Speakers reached the same conclusion that producers must work together to arrest this decline and halt the slide of the milk price. The strength of the £ is a serious problem, but one that dairy farmers can do little about.

The 6p or 9p fall in milk price is attributable to the £, which leaves a balance of 3p that dairy farmers have themselves given away. Why? Because direct suppliers have left dairy farmers in a poor negotiating position.

Both speakers highlighted this in no uncertain terms and appealed for these producers to work in a co-operative movement for the sake of everyone involved in UK dairy farming.

We have been told that dairy farming is in Last Chance Saloon. Now is the time for direct suppliers to look themselves in the mirror and ask, "Am I going to listen this time?"

We must look forward to what we as dairy farmers can do about the future. It is down to us; not the government, NFU or people like John Loftus. Unless milk producers take back control of what they worked hard to supply, there will be a limited future.

We have all been warned, there can be no excuses this time.

A G John

Ingleston, Borgue, Kirkudbright.

Milk co-ops are urgently needed

The price of milk is low because the only CAP subsidy is for butter and skim milk powder for which the intervention prices are steadily being reduced. About 10% of milk is used in these products.

No matter how efficiently a butter SMP creamery operates the low intervention prices, which tend to set the prices obtained for butter and SMP, mean that the price payable for their milk is below most peoples cost of producing milk.

If milk were sold at an enhanced price for use as liquid or for other premium outlets, while those producers supplying creameries producing butter and SMP paid a lower price, before long the lower-paid producers would undercut the better off producers. In the end there would be a small premium covered by the extra haulage.

For most of the past 80 years milk made into butter and SMP has been paid for at a lower price than that used in the premium markets. It was because of the low milk prices paid in some parts of the UK that the milk marketing boards were set up. In South-west Scotland milk fetched 3p per gallon old money before the SMMB and 6p after.

In most continental countries large co-ops pool their receipts and pay farmers for their milk a sum higher than the price butter and SMP Creameries pay but lower than the premium markets pay.

A large co-op is not permitted by the government and theres little hope of quotas being reduced to produce a better balance between dairymen and processors. Unless the government can be persuaded to allow large co-ops to sell and pool milk prices, it is hard to see much hope for sustained higher milk prices.

P G Philpot

Dollymans Farm, Rawreth, Essex.

Want British? Go to Germany

Despite strenuous attempts made to establish a British trademark which can be used to identify foodstuffs that reach British welfare and hygiene standards, the mark offers no guarantee that produce is of British origin.

Apparently, accurate identification of country of origin is contrary to EU regulations. But the German regions have now lifted their ban on the import of British beef (News, Mar 24). Interestingly, that includes a clear labelling of the beef as British through to the point of retail.

So if we wish to be assured that we are eating British beef, we shall have to import it from Germany! For those intent on purchasing British produce, local butchers or farmers markets are likely to provide far greater traceability than any supermarket can offer.

James Hunt

2 Leigh Cross Cottage, Milton Abbot, Tavistock, Devon.

Idea to solve bobby shortage

In the past, I have always found the local police response time and their advice to be very good. But times have changed. We no longer have a local full time police station and we seldom see the same policeman twice so they never get to know the area.

Some years ago in Australia I saw a sign at a farm gateway bearing a four-letter code. I was told that in the event of an emergency, a passing stranger just had to give the number. Would this help here?

Northants Farmer

Name and address supplied.

Organic tale not the whole story

Your Management Matters article (Business, Apr 14) on Tirinie highlighted issues relating to the organic conversion of Ian Duncan Millars hill farms at Auchnafree and Wester Tullich.

Its encouraging to see information on organic farming but it was unfortunate that your report was presented under an alarmist headline and contained misleading information on the Scottish Organic Producers Associations Veterinary Guidance Notes.

The underlying principle of organic standards is the maintenance of animal/crop health by good management practices. Over reliance on prophylactic chemotherapy is discouraged and products are advised to develop management systems, which reduce their dependence on chemical inputs.

The Veterinary Guidance Notes were developed in response to numerous requests for help from producers and veterinarians. They are designed to assist farmers and their veterinary surgeons in producing a plan that will enable livestock to gain and maintain organic status. That is achieved by ensuring that all management and inputs conform to the requirements of the SOPA Standards and those of the EC Regulation for organic livestock production which comes into effect on 24 Aug 2000.

You quote Ian Duncan Millar as saying "the guidance is not to use vaccines against clostridial diseases" and it is suggested that such treatment is banned. That is not true. No medicine is banned in organic farming, but the Organic Standards require that "preventive chemotherapy may only be used to deal with specifically identified diseases or as part of an agreed conversion or disease reduction plan". Standards state, "vaccination is permitted in cases where there is a known disease risk". Single, two-in-one or four-in-one vaccines are preferred to more complex multiple vaccines unless such cover is specifically required.

The SOPA Veterinary Guidance Notes suggest that, in order to comply with the Standards, "a staged programme of vaccination withdrawal should be planned." Also outlined is a suggested programme starting with next years cull ewes and eventually, "working backwards over 4-5 years to the replacement ewe lambs providing, of course, that disease does not break out in the interval."

The SOPA certification committee is aware that defining the known risk of sudden death from soil borne clostridial diseases poses particular problems for the sheep farmer and considers this and all other aspects of a livestock management plan on a case by case basis.

C F Beattie

Certification manager, Scottish Organic Producer Association, Doune, Perthshire.

Safe farms save workers lives

Each year many farm workers and children are killed or seriously injured when carrying out what are often regarded as normal activities such as driving a tractor. Employers must provide both a safe place of work and safe systems of work for their employees by carrying out risk assessments under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

It is also a legal requirement that farmers who employ five or more employees must prepare, and as often as appropriate revise, a written statement of policy with respect to the health and safety at work of their employees and the arrangements in force for carrying out that policy. Any revision of that policy should be brought to the notice of employees.

Managing health and safety at work can be an onerous task especially when time is precious and knowledge of safety legislation is limited.

But help is at hand from experienced professionals such as myself. I can be contacted by letter or by phone/fax on 01621 772711.

RR Smith

Workplace 2000, Rowan, Maldon Road, Steeple, Essex.

Matter far from fully debated

It was with interest that I read your report (News, Apr 21) on the closure of MAFF offices and the debate it started in Devon.

I raised the matter at the end of the Devon County March meeting. Most people were unaware of the implications and many had not heard about it before. When I asked the vice president about its implications, he was unable to answer. The meeting decided to send a resolution to London because the members were concerned enough to show how they felt.

Some members asked Richard Haddock to investigate because other council delegates present did not know about the matter. As regards comments that this matter was fully debated, nothing could be further from the truth.

J Yeoman

Barnspark, Soar, Malborough, Kingsbridge, Devon.

Tolerance in sugar beet

Monsanto states (Letters, Apr 7) that independent reports show: "Roundup-tolerant sugar beet would save 20-50% in the amount of herbicide used in beet."

One of the most recent reports on this type of beet is published in the April edition of Pest Management Science. A number of Roundup usage scenarios were tested on fen land in Cambridgeshire. These gave reduced weed control in GM beet compared with a conventional weed management regime. In some cases this resulted in heavy yield losses ranging from 24% to 32%.

Ignoring the wider aspects of the GM debate and the fact that there is no market for GM sugar beet, few farmers are likely to want to use any technology which risks reducing their margin over seed and spray costs.

Mark Griffiths

Regional leader, Natural Law Party Wessex, 75 Fairfield Road, Winchester, Hants.

Bakers remarks out of context

As a farmer and co-organiser of the recent conference called to address the problems facing British beef producers in the global market, it is essential to present a more balanced view of the statements made than those suggested by recent Press headlines.

Headline remarks (News, Apr 14) made by Shawn Baker were taken out of context. He rightly highlighted the results of recent surveys showing the harsh truth that most consumers buy on price, quality and availability rather than because produce is British. That view was confirmed at a conference staged by the Institute of Grocery Distribution.

Mr Baker also explained that Midland Meat Packers and UK farmers would have to adjust to meet the new demands of the market for more oven-ready meals.

That trend was confirmed by Alan Jansen of Imperial Beef, Nebraska, USA in his presentation on how US beef producers meet the challenge of the global market. As a large-scale beef producer he explained that he co-operated with the food processors to satisfy their needs for more convenient meals as well as their favourite steaks.

The leading retailers, caterers and manufacturers that we supply through Midland Meat Packers are doing a superb job in supporting British beef in driving sales through innovative marketing especially in the fast-growing ready to cook and out of home caring sectors. And we can take considerable heart from their continuing commitment to our quality assured product. Unfortunately, significant amounts of imported meat are being sold by less committed players.

The key to maintaining our markets in the face of this growing competition is by delivering the quality that the market demands on a scale that allows us to be cost competitive. We can only do this if we work closely together to drive unnecessary cost out of the food chain at every stage, while at the same time taking maximum advantage of every opportunity for growth in the fast-changing consumer market.

John Bell

Berryfields Farm, Daventry, Northants.

Farm visits can help immunity

A few months ago, Prof. Hugh Pennington reportedly called for an end to farm visits for children under five years old (Opinion and News, Feb 25).

The incidence of potentially harmful micro-organisms in farm livestock is reported to be widespread. Bearing in mind the contact with animals and their manure that is inevitable for farmers and their families, one would expect that the likelihood of transmission of these harmful organisms to farmers and their families would be high. But is that the case?

Farmers are less likely to suffer from food poisoning and related problems. Is that because they become immune?

If so, we should encourage the visit of children to farms to acquire immunity and not ban them.

George Wadsworth

Fieldfare Associates,

Bigger is not always better

I refer to your report (Business, Apr 21) of the proposed merger of Countrywide Farmers and SCATS. Countrywides message is that bigger is better but the case is unproven. SCATS shareholders should review the proposal carefully.

In the three years before the formation of Countrywide, both its constituent companies, MSF and WMF, had declining turnover and profits. That was reversed by becoming the UKs biggest farmer-controlled company. Shareholders have yet to see whether the formula works.

An early indication that it might not be the answer is the fact that both Claas and Case, having reviewed the plan and the quality of the management, terminated their machinery franchises. Being so big and having so many customer shareholders was not sufficient to stay in the machinery business.

Bigger and better is no substitute for proper management of what you already own.

John Lumsdon

Mayhouse Farm, Hadley, Droitwich, Worcs.

Plea for whole farm scheme

I recently applied to join ACCS, but not through choice. I have been told that my crops of milling wheat grown on a buy-back contract with Allied Grain will not be accepted by the mills if Im not a member of ACCS. Is this not trade bullying?

However, I would be interested in joining a single scheme for all products. Im going to have to join schemes for grain, potatoes and beef cattle. Please lets have one simple whole farm scheme.

R.E. Moore & Partners

West Learmouth, Cornhill-on-Tweed, Northumberland.

Where to point the BSE finger?

I read with interest the letters (Apr 14) from Mrs Thomas and Lord Walsingham. We have a herd of 150 milkers in North Notts and most of the countys dairymen will tell you that ours has been the worst hit county by BSE in the country.

Some can also tell you that we used the least warble dressing. In my case not a spot of any sort, so my cows did not get their BSE from my warble treatment, did they?

Furthermore, BSE has always been confined to the home-reared animals and has not affected the large number of bought-in cows and in-calf heifers that have been needed to keep herd numbers stable. That suggests that our problem has occurred during the rearing period, when everything was fed on milk replacer and calf starter and rearing pellets from the same feed manufacturer. Where should I point my finger?

John E Cobb

Director, Lodge Farm, Darlton, Newark, Notts.

Look to Swiss as role models

Your feature (Apr 21) on Switzerland should be of great interest to everyone connected to agriculture in this country. Switzerland, with its small population maintains a high standard of living for both its rural and urban people.

It gives the lie to much of the propaganda, such as that we are too small to prosper on our own, that has been showered on us in the past. Since the UK joined the EEC on 1 Jan 73, we have seen farming, fishing, shipbuilding, coal mining and much of our manufacturing industry devastated. But we continue to pay £10-11bn/year to a corrupt and fraudulent EU. It is time we left and again managed our own affairs.

G Gait

Pauselam Farm, Haycastle, Haverfordwest, Pembs.

Farmers should get more reward

One of the greatest challenges facing government is to give British farming the support it deserves. Farmers are facing the most severe threat to their way of life since the 1930s.

It is beyond belief that, in a country which is financially the fourth richest in the world, there are people working our land, growing our food, who, in many instances do not pay themselves a penny for fear of losing that most precious commodity – their livelihood. In so-called booming Britain, can that be right?

The reality of farming is that we must all eat to live. The riches of the earth reach us via the skilled hands of many devoted people who work throughout the year. Through farmers top efforts we survive. No other industry can make such a claim. No other industry is more worthy of government support.

It cannot be emphasised strongly enough that a sustainable farming economy, dependent on urban consumers, loyal to home-grown produce is the only way forward.

D J J Harvey

Brookwell Close, Chippenham, Wilts.

Concretes curse – excess water

As farmers and quality-assured suppliers of readymixed concrete, we were disturbed to read (Features, Mar 3) the article about the use of hot rolled asphalt, in lieu of tried and tested high quality concrete, on silage pit floors.

Provided customers select the concrete mix that has been specifically designed for the job, namely a silage pit, ensure that the supplier carries third party quality assurance and that the delivered readymixed concrete is unadulterated with additional water, then the design life of 20 years should be achieved. There are concrete mixes available today which are deemed impermeable.

Unauthorised added water is the scourge of the readymixed concrete industry. Nobody would ever even think about thinning any other quality construction, or agricultural, materials for fear of putting a warranty at risk. But when it comes to concrete, caution appears to be thrown to the wind.

Make your purchases from a readymixed supplier who has a BSI Kitemark Licence. Ask for a copy of the Kitemark Licence. Inform the supplier of the type of construction you are undertaking and ask for his advice on the quality, type and workability of the concrete you will require.

When the concrete arrives do not allow any unauthorised addition of water. Provided those simple rules are followed, farmers should be filled with confidence, armed with the knowledge, that their endeavour has not been in vain.

P R Jones

Tudor Griffiths Group, Wood Lane, Ellesmere, Shropshire.

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