Archive Article: 2001/11/30

30 November 2001

Thanks for providing an honest voice

We feel we must write to compliment everyone at farmers weekly on producing such a first-class magazine. At a time when we farmers are having such a hard time your publication is one of the few fair and honest voices to be heard on our side.

The standard of articles, the photography, the family and farm reports are of the highest standard. Your editorial comments and those of David Richardson are a sadly needed breath of realistic common sense.

In these depressing times your magazine cheers us up amidst all the nonsense about farming given out by spin doctors and politicians.

T and S Richardson

Low Farm, Gransmoor, Driffield, E Yorks.

Our auctions are much needed

I agree with David Richardsons views about the need for our auction marts (Opinion, Nov 2). Without them how would price levels be determined for primestock, store and breeding stock? Doubtless, it would be through Brussels and manipulated by our caring government with the result that farmers would be the losers at the end of the day.

I think it is high time that British farmers banded together to form a confederation as Mr Richardson suggested some weeks ago (Opinion, Nov 9). Sadly, the NFU and its Scottish and Welsh equivalents do not represent all the farmers and ancillary trades that rely on UK farming.

When you see the clout that the CBI holds on the government of the day then you realise how important a Confederation of British Agriculture could be in our present climate.

On a slightly lighter note, I read recently that after the mix up with cow and sheep brains in the search for BSE, there are to be tests to determine if sheep have memories. As a sheep farmer, may I suggest that when the tests are proved positive, those in government consider having a sheep brain implant because the governments memory appears to be on the short side.

J Grey

Newton, Tornaveen, Torphins, Banchory, Aberdeenshire.

Link milk and cereal adverts

The "White Stuff" campaign has annoyed me for long enough. White stuff can refer to so many things, not least in recent times to the substance used to carry Anthrax and which has caused scares all over the world.

For a long time now I have wondered why advertisers of milk have not used the obvious and advertised that a bowl of cornflakes is horrible without chilled milk!

If the cereal companies could be persuaded then they could promote both their product and milk. And if they use British cereals to make "Porridge Oats" or "Weetos" then they would be able to promote British farm produce as well. Simple! As simple as a glass of milk.

Rana Davies-James

Lower Sydcombe, Dorstone, Hereford.

Local markets winning formula

In response to Paul Drinkwaters comments (Letters, Nov 16) why not sell direct to the customer? I run a charity for people with learning difficulties and after some local research in Feb 2000, with five other farmers, I started a Farmers Market to sell our own produce, initially eggs and vegetables.

Kent has the usual plethora of supermarkets, but our village, Rolvenden, population 1200, now runs a weekly 30-stall market for small local producers, organic and non-organic, also rural crafts and trades. Not only has this provided a lifeline for several small farmers, many people have actually started businesses within the umbrella of this very successful community-based incentive.

Large farmers may ridicule this local initiative, but we operated for a year without grants or any external funding. Our winning formula has now been recognised and a grant-funded market now brings in shoppers from further afield.

The social aspects of the market are also of great value in a rural community, the tea shop being particularly popular, using home-made produce provided by the traders.

Many people vote with their feet and come to Rolvenden Market for organic produce at realistic prices. Supermarkets can provide bulk, foreign and cheap food, but fortunately supermarket shopping is not yet compulsory.

Sue Saggers

Chairman, Rolvenden Farmers Line, Lowden Manor, Maytham Road, Rolvenden Layne, Cranbrook, Kent.

What is super pasteurisation?

I buy all my milk from our local dairy. I buy pasteurised whole milk. Four weeks ago, I noticed that there was no longer any visible cream line and the milk appeared to be homogenised.

When I queried this with the dairy it said the milk was not homogenised, but "super pasteurised" because of foot-and-mouth!

Can anyone explain?

Mrs B Mumford

Rectory Farm, West Torrington, Market Rasen, Lincs.

Ring of truth to fantasy memo

I had a dream that I saw a memo from one government adviser to another. It read as follows: "You know the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak is turning out to be a pretty good investment for our government.

"Yes, it may have cost around £12bn but just think what we have got for that. Large numbers of sheep and cattle, which were costing a fortune in subsidies, have gone. Quite a lot of farmers too, but everybody knows there were too many of them anyway. And what was it I heard about Brussels saying that they did not want the UK to be the livestock country in the EU – so some brownie points there.

"Pity about the tourist industry, but really those people living out there in the countryside cannot have it all their own way – I mean its like being on a perpetual holiday.

"And then there is fox hunting. Wouldnt it be great if we could arrange a few suspect outbreaks in December, then the hunts could stay shut down and would almost certainly go bust? Save an awful lot of trouble trying to get that wretched Bill through the House. Give it some thought, please."

A nasty, spiteful, fantasy? Yet, it has a certain ring about it. Are all these stories that we hear just about lamentable inefficiency or is there a hidden agenda? I hear a rumour that there is to be a judicial review going through the courts to force the government to hold a public inquiry and that DEFRA has said that it will fight it all the way to the Lords. I wonder why!

Henry Fell

Use livestock to replace beet

The fact that 1300 sugar beet growers have sold their quotas and left this industry (to be replaced by a mere 120 larger growers) raises the question as to how arable rotations are going to be organised in those areas which have dropped out.

Sugar beet has been an essential break-crop. It is unlikely that potatoes can replace beet on smaller farms and the cultivation/cleaning effects of sugar beet will be sorely missed by outgoers.

On heavier land, one could expect yet more winter wheat, rape, even spring barley. Grass leys in the rotation implies livestock grazing, which, in arable areas, is regretfully almost a thing of the past.

IACS now includes modulation. Area payments in upland areas are supposed to replace sheep and cattle headage subsidies. This is now (flawed) government policy.

The two situations are linked. There is a distinct risk of more cases of monoculture and degraded soils unless we tackle this need to replace beet areas with a decent rotation, encouraged by profitable livestock enterprises.

In the great debate about farming, the countryside and wildlife, we must somehow find a way to re-engage arable areas with integrated sheep and cattle supplied from the hills. Nothing new here! It just needs DEFRA to learn from history and fit a support scheme around a historically proven system of sound husbandry. An arable area stewardship scheme, to include grazed grass, seems the obvious way forward.

Keith McDougall

Hill House, Bridge Street, Stiffkey, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.

He knows what is sustainable

I was amused to read Lord Melchetts comments (Talking Point, Nov 16). As a beef-producing vegetarian, Lord Melchett is clearly a virtuoso of joined-up thinking, and is just the man to be advising the Soil Association on what is truly sustainable in Britain.

Simon Stow

Its a waste of taxpayers cash

The government is more interested in being seen to promote renewable energy crops than actually achieve anything.

Your leader (Opinion, Nov 16) referred to £15.5m being spent to help farmers and foresters establish energy crops. This sum is only a small part of what they plan to spend in total.

Having been involved in the development, production and installation of smaller straw and wood fired boilers since 1976, I am completely disillusioned by the governments current efforts on this front.

Most of the money being spent goes into the pockets of consultants and most of the rest is spent on feasibility studies. There is a complete lack of intelligent thinking.

For example, at the MAFF research centre at Drayton, near Stratford-on-Avon, where nearly 100ha (250 acres) of willow are being grown, the resultant end product fuel is going to be taken away for incineration before presumably being put into land-fill! It does not appear that any serious thought has been given to installing a small woodchip-fired heating system at Drayton, yet at the same time farmers are being encouraged to try to sell heat from biomass to local end users.

There are many more situations like this across the country. Our taxpayers money is being wasted and the whole thing is a complete farce.

Peter Tiesen

Tiesen Products, Bradley Green, Redditch, Worcs.

Backed into a corner by ACCS?

Completing the paperwork for the renewal of my membership of the Assured Combinable Crops scheme, a company called Checkmate featured prominently in both the literature and the address for correspondence. I thought Checkmate was what was said by the victor in a chess match when the opposition was backed into a corner with no escape, as if to say "Gotcha".

Have we all been backed into that corner by ACCS, which takes our money in order for us not to gain any premium for our grain, but in order not to lose anything for not being a member?

Name and address supplied.

Has maize hit badger immunity?

I was fascinated to read the article about selenium and the adverse effects of a low selenium diet (Livestock, Nov 16). Maize is known to be exceptionally low in selenium and is one of the badgers favourite foods. A selenium deficient diet in sheep and cattle causes a lowering of immune levels, which can result in numerous problems including severe pneumonia. Have we, as maize growers, accidentally changed the badgers diet and with it lowered their resistance to TB?

It would explain why TB started in the south-west in the mid-1980s, following the introduction of maize, and how the disease has spread north following the maize crop. Should we be feeding high selenium, molassed-based blocks to the badgers in the same way as we do to the cattle? Or is this another useless theory thought up by a farmer who has tried everything else to rid his cattle of TB?

Dick Roper

Broadfield Farms, Eastington, Northleach, Glos.

Voluntary levy sign of success

The chief executive of the HGCA listed six activities which his organisation carries out (Letters, Nov 9). If he is so certain that British farmers find these valuable, then what has he got to fear from my suggestion that the levy be made voluntary and the supposed benefits go only to the levy payers? If he is right the vast majority of British farmers will surely be overjoyed to continue paying the levy.

Meanwhile, it would be interesting if he could answer my three other criticisms of his organisation – the HGCA forces me to give it money; it never consults me about how it is spent; and it refuses to link the levy to the market price of cereals.

Oliver Walston

Thriplow Farm, Thriplow, Royston, Herts.

AICC members average age is 46

The article "rural brain-drain as farming suffers" (News, Nov 2) contained a statement which was considerably off the mark.

It was stated that the average age of AICC members was 55 years, which would suggest that most members were in the last quarter of their working life.

Considering a consultant is required to qualify from university, sit FACTS, BASIS, join the BASIS professional register and then complete two years as an associate member, then they are probably at least 25 before they can become a full member of AICC. With this in mind then their working life is from the age of 25 to 65.

The actual average age of the membership of AICC is 46, which is almost half way through the career age band. This shows that there is an even spread of members through the age groups.

There is, without question, a continual reduction in the number of producers and the number of advisers has to reflect this. But I believe that in the next decade AICC will continue to attract new members to deliver the services required by farmers and will not, as implied, retire into extinction.

Allen Scobie

Chairman, Association of Independent Crop Consultants, Agriculture House, Station Road, Liss, Hants.

New Labour ditches farming

There is less chance of Mr Blair holding a public inquiry into the handling of foot-and-mouth than there was for Bill Clinton to admit that he had an affair with a White House trainee.

New Labour promised better health and better education without raising income tax. Its argument is there are only a few farmers, so why not buy cheap food imports and use the billions paid to farmers on vote-winning schools and medical care?

Until the UK became integrated into Europe and its CAP, our agriculture was the most efficient in Europe. Farm subsidies were lower, when we were getting £29/t for feed wheat, the French were getting £38/t and Germans £42/t. But food prices in UK shops were close to half those on the Continent.

There were two reasons why Britain did not revert to its pre-war free trade policy. First, the war had drained the nations coffers. Second, the cold war did not finish until the end of 1989.

Another argument against ditching UK farming is the other three big economies in Europe – France, Germany and Italy – introduced CAP because their small farm policy offered self-sufficiency and social support. The French, who have 700,000 small farmers, plus a similar number who support them, do not want them to cause inner-city deprivation, or add to their long and expensive dole queues. Germany has more than 3m unemployed, and Italy has as many as France.

On the question of central and Eastern Europe, their pay and conditions would have to match EU rates, which would then make their farm food as expensive as present EU prices.

What will not happen is for the EU to become beholden to America for such a strategic commodity as food. Until, that is, the US pays the price for pollution reduction, worth $24/t on the price of US wheat.

George Scales

Cobblers Pieces, Abbess Roding, Ongar, Essex.

Paper confims bloat causes

You reported (Livestock, Oct 12) that a Somerset vet, Stephen Turner, had observed that high potassium to sodium ratios induce bloat in dairy cattle. But he was reluctant to advocate dietary changes because no scientific studies had been done to support this observation.

I published a paper in The Veterinary Journal earlier this year, which demonstrates this relationship in vitro, which Mr Turner is probably unaware of.

Clive Phillips

Senior lecturer in Farm Animal Production Medicine, Dept of Clinical Vet Medicine, Madingley Road, University of Cambridge.

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