Archive Article: 2000/07/21

21 July 2000

Time for UKto bite thek bullet…

It is not my style to sit on the fence when a crisis stares agriculture in the face and continues to ruin the lives of farming families throughout the UK.

Your editorial (Opinion, July 7) spells out clearly the inescapable fact that a single European market without a common currency costs Britain £ billions and farming more than £2bn a year during the past two years through exchange rate fluctuations.

The NFU estimates that dairy farmers alone are losing 5p/litre on milk, based on IMF figures, claiming the £ is 25% overvalued against the k.

At the Royal Show there was a clear indication of the problem faced by many ancillary trades and manufacturers of farming equipment by their absence as exhibitors.

It used to be said that loyalty is more meaningful if the capital L is spelt with the £ sterling. But in todays competitive world, when we are losing market share, devaluing support payments and export opportunities. The chronic damage caused to the economy and rural employment calls for a rethink and positive action on currency.

Britain is the only country in the EU that has failed to fully compensate producers through the agrimonetary system, often leaving farmers worse off than their European counterparts. That, in addition to welfare standards, leaves them far from operating on a level playing field.

From the time of the creation of the k, I pressed for support payments to be paid in k, thereby saving heavy administrative costs to the government. I believe that your figure of a £40m saving is underestimated.

It is not right to strike a balance between rights and responsibilities ensuring fair competitiveness for agriculture and the rural community? It may be unpalatable but the government should state what its intentions are and assist the whole industry by easing the burden of red tape and bureaucracy.

It is, as you say, in your excellent editorial, high time to bite the k bullet. Unless we do there can be little hope of restoring the morale of people who are involved in the most important industry in this country.

Lord Plumb

House of Lords, London.

My nation and not my farm

I rise to your bait (Opinion, July 7). One doesnt have to be a mathematician to realise that the depth to which the k has sunk is costing farming dearly at the present. But I am stunned by your short-sightedness.

"Its high time to bite the k bullet," you say, but you should have heard the rumblings in Blaydon churchyard. About 60 years ago we were saved from the loss of our sovereignty through the outcome of an infinitely greater conflict than the present farming crisis.

Only a decade ago we were pushed into the ERM by the nations boardrooms. Our joining brought on a needless recession until the explosion came which blew the £ out of the ERM after exhausting the nations reserves. That was the turning point for the British economy, which has scarcely looked back ever since.

If we lose the £, bang goes our sovereignty as well. Free trade with Europe is fine. That is what I and millions more voted for in the days when the EU was called the EEC, but that was far enough. Just batten down the hatches and keep your nerve. I am prepared to lose my farming business rather than have England ruled by Europe.

Howard Lockey

Branksome, Maulden, Beds.

£:k rate might not fall anyway

Your leader (Opinion, July 7) advocating that Britain should join the k is somewhat simplistic. You appear, as do the multinationals which also clamour for us to sign up, to assume that the rate ultimately used to fix the £ against the k will be lower than it is now. That is not necessarily true.

Although our EU "partners" have many reasons for wishing to trap us in the k, helping our exporters to export is not among them. Even supposing sterling was fixed at a lower rate than the present one. Such an artificially determined rate would mean an equally artificial devaluation against the $, in relation to which the £ is already at something of a low. That would raise other problems, not least, extra inflation resulting from imported, $-priced raw materials.

Instead of seeking to devalue the £, we should await the working-through of natural, bureaucrat-resistant market forces and economic cycles that will eventually cause the k to strengthen against the £. We should also stop bleating about how there can be no future for farming, or anything else, if we leave the EU. The recurrent reports in your pages of the shabby antics the French and others resort to in order to prevent the slightest reform of an insane, sick and corrupt system more than justify the amply documented opposite point of view. We would be better off out.

Tony Stone

1 Home Park, Oxted, Surrey.

Joining k must be long-term

Your comment on the k (Opinion, July 7) confuses the issue of Economic and Monetary Union with currency devaluation.

It is untrue to say that joining the k would lead to a devaluation of the £. Our European partners would never allow us to join a rate lower than the market is setting. If we were to join the k now, we would be locked in at a high level which would perpetuate the pain British farmers are experiencing. Joining the k is a long-term decision and the debate should not be driven by short-term changes in the value of the k.

It has been weak because the markets are concerned about the lack of economic reform in the k zone, which has higher taxes, more regulation and higher labour costs than the UK.

Moreover, the UK does not need to join the k to have lower interest rates and to devalue the £. Long- term interest rates set by the bond market are lower for borrowing in sterling than for borrowing in ks. If the government decided to devalue the £, all it would need to do is set the Bank of England a higher inflation target.

While we keep control of our own economy, the government has such policy options. If we were to join the k, those options would close and we would be forced to accept an economic policy set by the European Central Bank.

It is also inaccurate to claim that France and Germany are happy with the performance of the k. Last year 11 French MEPs were elected on a policy of abandoning the k and re-establishing the franc. A recent poll in Germany showed that support for the k has fallen to fewer than one in three – lower than when it was launched.

As you point out, farmers should have the option to receive some of their subsidies in ks if they choose. They are already free to borrow in ks. But using the k as a trading currency is not the same as abolishing the £ and losing control of our economy.

Our last currency experiment, the ERM, caused enormous pain for the farming industry. We should not repeat that mistake.

Sir John Nott

Business for Sterling, Trewinnard Farm, St Erth, Cornwall.

A sacrifice well worth making

We religiously take our annual trip to The Royal Show, hopefully to see new ideas in farming in these depressing times. In the past few years we have looked forward to all the new machinery on offer even if only to look at it. But where have all the big firms gone? No John Deere, no Ford New Holland, no Claas and many more. We know it costs a great deal to exhibit at the show but we farmers have had to take cuts so why cant you?

We shall still take our annual trip to the Royal Show hoping one day to see the colour of green tractor machinery or blue, showing that the big companies are back once again. So come on, lets make the show worth going to see.

Steve Thorne

Gracelands, Bishopstone,

Cant they see were in trouble?

Have merchants and breeders realised what a dire situation British farming is in today? A quote from our buying group puts Apex oilseed rapeseed at more than £4000/t for this season. That is a rise of more than 3300% on a good ex-farm price.

Farmers have had to manage their crops through slug attack and pigeon bombardment, through weed control and all sorts of disease pressures. Someone is buying their crops and making a fortune in reselling them back to farmers. No wonder we are struggling.

Henry Carter

GM and science fact or fiction?

The Conservative Party document, A Fair Deal for Farmers (News, July 7), was launched at the Royal Show. It covers the whole spectrum of British farming, but I only want to comment on one aspect – the section dealing with GM crops. It says, "Stop commercial planting of GM crops until scientific evidence shows that there are no unacceptable risks to the environment or human health." On the face of it, it would be difficult to quarrel with that, but it does pose some important questions.

What scientific evidence in addition to that already available? For we already have the report of the Royal Society, the report of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, the reports of the specialist committees of both the House of Lords and the House of Commons. That is to say nothing of the very detailed report of the science committee to the US congress, "Seeds of Opportunity".

It is difficult to imagine how much more thorough and detailed future reports and investigations could be. Surely, no one could accuse these distinguished bodies of being anything other than impartial?

What, is an acceptable risk? Does that include driving a car on a motorway in a heavy thunderstorm; drinking alcohol; getting out of bed in the morning?

Why should it be wrong (ie risky) to eat GM food, and right to have a GM injection? Insulin has been GM for many years. Oh, and by the way, what about eating cheese? Rennet has been GM for a long time.

A simple farmer such as myself can be forgiven for feeling confused! How much more bewildered must our scientists be. What more can we do? Do please spell it out.

Henry Fell

Church House, Horkstow, Barton on Humber, South Humberside.

Actions louder than words

Farmers are constantly being encouraged to partake in buying groups in order to reduce costs; a concept with which I wholeheartedly agree as the secretary of a successful buying group in Somerset.

At every farming meeting I attend this approach to buying is vociferously supported by individual farmers. Yet, when I approach farmers and demonstrate the cost savings achievable, they are unwilling to partake in such schemes. The reason given for this lack of support is that they are concerned about losing their independence as a buyer.

Our buying group has been trading for two years and no member has yet chosen to leave the group; which demonstrates the success of bulk buying.

It seems that farmers are more than willing to talk about supporting buying groups, but when it comes to the crunch they wont put their money where their

mouth is. How is British farming supposed to survive in such a hostile climate if farmers are unwilling to expand their ideas and approaches to farming? Moreover, how can the current plight of farmers be taken seriously by the government if farmers are unwilling to help themselves?

James Dorse

Parks Farm, Kingston St Mary, Taunton, Somerset.

Badger focus wont beat TB

We write as members of the TB Forum which was set up by MAFF "to consider new measures, which might be taken to control TB in cattle".

We accepted the invitation to join the Forum believing that it would consider new measures, other than killing badgers. But we have been faced by a determined campaign waged by farming and veterinary organisations, particularly NFU and BCVA, to make the forum little more than a vehicle to push through their proposals to kill badgers outside the current trial.

The NFU expects the TB Forum to vote on the proposals at the next Forum meeting in July. That concerns us. The Forum is not a voting body and does not even have a formal constitution. It is intended to reach a consensus view by discussion and not divisive votes. A number of consensus initiatives are in progress within the Forum.

Farmers are not being told the full facts. The NFU and BCVA proposals are opposed by the governments own scientific advisers, English Nature and Countryside Council for Wales and by John Bourne, chairman of the Independent Scientific Group.

MAFFs culture of secrecy means that, despite our objections, these facts have not been included in the meetings summary notes. Nor have the proposals been posted on the TB Forums web-site for the public to inspect. Those factors make a vote inappropriate and meaningless.

Ministers should be giving consideration to new ideas, which may help control TB in cattle. The persistent focus on badgers will not produce an effective and sustainable policy to control bovine TB in cattle. Positive solutions, such as improving husbandry and welfare, gaining better grants to enable more marginal farms to upgrade their facilities, are the way forward.

We believe Britains family farms will find a sustained demand for their produce only if it is created in sympathy with wildlife and the environment. The TB Forum is not looking in the right direction.

Elaine King

Conservation officer, 2 Cloisters Business Centre, 8 Battersea Park Road, London.

Welsh unhappy with auctions

I would like to reply to your report "All-Wales livestock unit misses investor target" (News, July 7). There is no need for auctioneers to be jubilant because the proposed Welsh Meat Company failed to attract its target of 1000 farmer investors set in the prospectus.

It should be worried that 740 Welsh farmers have shown that they are unhappy with the way stock is sold and the returns they receive at auction markets by buying shares in the proposed WMC.

The above 740 is in addition to the several thousand producers who have turned their backs on the auction markets in recent years by joining various marketing clubs, groups and organisations and are obtaining better returns for their stock. This group of producers did not bother to buy shares in the WMC because they were able to join the various marketing groups for free.

F J Williams

Berthlwyd Uchaf Farm, Llandovery, Carmarthershire.

Good service, good feeling

I recently read an article from a local newspaper reporting on the Churches Tent at the Royal Cornwall Show, which represented most of the Christian congregations in Cornwall.

In the article, the Rev Roger Greene is mentioned for his involvement in the Rogation Sunday service held in the calf pens at Hallworthy Market, which attracted between 500 and 600 people. I do not believe such a large number of people would have attended the service, if it had not been for farmers weekly advising local farmers in advance.

I can think of nothing bad about Christian people, of different denominations, coming together to call on their God in times of trouble, or any other time for that matter. It can do nothing but good.

On market days at Hallworthy, farmers greet each other with a hail-fellow-well-met attitude, which has a hollow ring to it. Despite the forced camaraderie, they are worried about balancing the books. More and more of their contemporaries are selling up.

After the service in the calf pens it was different. It was as if there had been a release, and people stayed behind to talk freely and at length with one another. There is a new atmosphere in Cornwall that started after the Rogation Service at Hallworthy Market. The service had a lot to commend it but it was farmers weekly which drew our attention to it. You have done us a great good.

J J Newcater

Hodges Ground, Mill Lane, Camelford, Cornwall.

Milk message takes to roads

With reference to Ken Davies letter "Milk tankers ideal for ads," (July 7), ABN has just launched a series of ads promoting British milk on our own mobile billboards – our south west lorry fleet.

That form of mobile advertising fits well with the MDCs generic campaign, provides a talking point for farmers and consumers and helps support dairy farmers. It also complements the School Milk Campaign on which ABN is collaborating with other industry players.

The initial reaction from dairy farmer customers has been positive. We plan to eventually extend the scheme to our national fleet with messages of support for other livestock sectors.

Tim Wilson

ABN ruminant sales director, ABN Ltd, ABN House, PO Box 250, Oundle Road, Woodston, Peterborough.

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