Archive Article: 2002/03/15

15 March 2002

NFU best lobbying medium

An arable union is a recipe for disaster and I am dismayed so many of my fellow arable farmers advocated it on farmers weekly Interactive (News, Mar 1).

I support John Jollys letter (Mar 1). The NFU is our best lobbying hope in these difficult times and if farmers are not satisfied then they should come to meetings, write in, and help their colleagues in the NFU. They are desperately trying to get the best terms for you. It is unfortunate that so much of the NFUs time is spent contesting unworkable proposed legislation for which it receives little thanks or publicity.

Ben Gill has always advocated large co-operatives. Perhaps we need the NFU, CLA, Tennant Farmers Association and Farmers For Action to form a co-operative strong enough to stand up to DEFRA and the supermarkets.

There seems little doubt that the present government is unconcerned about home production and will continue to promote UK farmings high health and welfare standards while buying the cheapest uncontrolled supply available.

But beware many third world countries can meet our farm assured and organic standards if they are required to do so. They also have the added advantage of beneficial exchange rates, as well as cheap labour and inputs, making them fierce competitors.

Jonathan Dixon Smith

Lanhams Farm, Cressing, Braintree, Essex.

Shut up or get chucked out

I was surprised and saddened at the Essex NFU chairmans announcement (Letters, Mar 1) that there had been a "strong move" for the NFU to have me "chucked out" of the union. The reason for this is that I have committed the unpardonable sin of questioning the basis of the subsidy system. Mr Jollys attitude would be supported by that great democrat, Robert Mugabe, but it is a sad reflection on the attitude of many of todays farmers.

Surely, if Mr Jolly was confident in his own point of view he would welcome a serious debate about the matter. But no. For him, and I assume the Essex NFU for which he is the spokesman, the solution is simple. Anybody who disagrees should be chucked out. With leaders like Mr Jolly, no wonder the NFU is so reluctant to change.

Oliver Walston

Triplow Farm, Cambridgeshire.

Time we had arable union

The National Farmers Union has always suffered from the difficulty of having to represent all the many diverse strands of agriculture.

Surely it is, therefore, high time that conventional arable farming formed its own organisation to fight the ever-increasing tide of attacks made upon it? Arable farmers have been long aware of the need to change and adapt to survive with an ever-diminishing level of subsidy support. But it should be recognised that this is not just a British concern but is inextricably tied up with our EU membership.

The government must realise that agriculture is no different from any other industry. In todays world, the only survivors are those industries that can achieve the highest levels of efficiency to withstand world competition. They must not allow the search for such efficiency in farming to be unnecessarily undermined. The current idea that farming should be supported by environmental payments is a political smokescreen.

They are simply subsidies by another name. As the environment is neither definable nor quantifiable, they would be grossly unfair and largely unworkable in some isolated circumstances.

Also strenuous efforts must be made to counter the unjustifiable claims that organic produce is better and safer to eat than conventionally produced food.

There s an urgent need for an arable farming organisation. Its success would depend entirely on its ability to find spokesmen and a leadership which was dynamic, well informed and above all else, articulate.

Without it, the already bleak outlook for such farming will become more so.

HWA Ruffell

Clipt Bushes, Cockfield, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

Meat marking gone wrong

During World War II, farmers did not have to worry about foot-and-mouth or swine fever as the U-boats sank our supply ships taking many brave men with them.

I want the government to pass a law that all meat and poultry is marked with the country of origin; not simply "EU UK". Supermarket fruit and veg is marked with the country of origin so why not meat, poultry and bacon? Ive been told that turkeys and chickens reared abroad are shipped here and sold as "British".

My wife and I went into ASDA store recently to buy a leg of English lamb. On a leg of chilled NZ lamb I noticed the "little red tractor" logo, the Union Jack and the EU UK stamp. At first the manager said it was obviously a leg of NZ lamb. But when I showed him the other side he was lost for words and an explanation other than to say that it was wrongly marked. We should have shown it to trading standards officials.

Many of my relations and friends are willing to sign a petition calling for all imported meat and poultry to be marked with the country of origin. That should be the case even when it is incorporated in ready-made dishes and catering outlets.

I would also like the government to make sure that all armed forces serving in the UK and schools are fed only British produced meat and poultry. If all readers would spend 10 minutes writing to their MP and sending a copy to their NFU branch, we could get results we want.

Ted Hone

Hambledon Farm, Danesbury Park Road, Welwyn, Hertfordshire.

Why dont we work together?

In reply to Mr Bentleys letter (Mar 1) Organic bodies causing Conflict, its not organic bodies that are pitting farmer against farmer. It is the farmers and growers themselves; they were criticising each other years before the certifying bodies ever thought of it.

Both conventional and organic growers are guilty. Until everyone realises that there is no hope for British agriculture. Contrary to popular urban opinion, farmers do have their fair share of intelligence, but sometimes they are good at hiding it. Why doesnt everyone stop blaming each other and work together? We should co-operate to show that we are not yokels that despise change and that we have a fantastic industry that can and will survive provided we work together.

Rosemary Robinson

Main Road Cottages, Bythorn, Huntingdon, Cambs.

A right good royal read

farmers weekly has given excellent coverage throughout this past dreadful year of foot-and-mouth. You have produced good, balanced and responsible reporting. Please keep up the good work, to defend our countryside, our farming, our people and our rural way of life.

We are a small minority but the majority and government must be made to realise the importance of food, farming and the beautiful environment we provide for them from farming revenue.

farmers weekly should be compulsory reading for all in the Palace of Westminster and government departments.

Mrs A Vigrass

Bexwell House, Bexwell Road, Downham Market, Norfolk.

No free public footpaths

How has the situation been allowed to develop where farmers and landowners are forced to provide leisure facilities to the public, free of charge? I refer to so-called public footpaths.

These ancient short cuts, made mainly by farm workers who had no form of transport other than their legs, have been hijacked by a group of people who seem to covet what other people have worked hard for. They stamp and shout, like badly behaved children, if the facilities are not to their liking. Then an official pats them on the head saying: "Dont cry, you shall have whatever you want and it wont cost you a penny". To use public leisure centres, public swimming pools, public tennis courts a fee is charged, so why not pay to use public footpaths?

These so-called public footpaths are on private land. You cant buy a field less the area of the path; you have to pay for the lot. If the politicians want us to provide leisure facilities we should be allowed to charge in line with other groups.

Mrs J Bacon

Green Lane Farm, Weeley, Clacton-on-Sea, Essex.

Lets bankrupt British Sugar

According to David Richardson (Mar 1) British Sugar appears to be doing its level best to bankrupt beet growers.

Is it not time that all the growers got together and decided not to grow sugar beet this year? We should tell the company to put their over-priced seed where the sun doesnt shine.

The share price of British sugar will then collapse and a growers co-op could buy the business for a song. The co-op could take control and sort the job out. Incidentally, we would also be following the line espoused by Margaret Beckett and Sir Donald Curry.

Andrew Stoddart

Waddington, Scotland.

Deter us you will not

I am reluctantly writing in response to the letter from Stuart Pattison (Letters, Feb 22). Reluctantly, because it is generally not worth recognising such an ill-founded diatribe.

However, the letter unfairly and gratuitously criticises the hard-working and skilled individuals employed by Elm Farm Research Centre as farm advisors in the Organic Advisory Service. Unfortunately, it is not possible to defend them without drawing further attention to Mr Pattisons false claims.

Mr Pattison dismisses our advisors as "instant experts" and dismisses their advice as "inexperienced". This is not the case. All our advisors, full-time and part-time, have an agricultural background, either through training or as farmers. Many of them have direct experience of organic farms and a number are successful organic farmers in their own right. All of them receive initial and ongoing training in the technology of and approaches to organic farming.

Whatever Mr Pattison thinks, we must be doing someone right. The OAS has been in existence since 1984 and no one in the UK has had more experience in advising on the successful conversion to organic farming – as our past and present clients, numbering several hundreds, can and do testify. Since the start of the Organic Conversion Information Scheme we have delivered over 9000 advisory visits to farmers with barely a complaint and with a demonstrably high satisfaction rating.

Over these years our advisors have worked hard to help develop the organic sector through the provision of sound advice and we will continue to do this in the future. Sour, ill founded and unwarranted ranting such as Mr Pattisons will not deter us.

Lawrence Woodward

Director, Elm Farm Research Centre, Hamstead Marshall, Newbury, Berks.

No post to rural areas?

The proposal to alter the way our mail is delivered and to privatise the service, must surely be another nail in the rural coffin. It will no longer be economical to deliver mail to rural areas on a daily basis, and I can foresee the possibility of having to collect it ourselves.

The present system works for the consumer. There is a flat rate of charges across the board, no matter where you live, which is fair. The postman is a vital link in rural areas and even more so in the more remote parts of the British Isles.

Big businesses will no doubt benefit. It will probably mean cheaper postage for those who live in big urban areas, whose need is not perhaps so great as ours.

Who will classify us as being remote or otherwise? My urban friends think we live in a remote area and we are two miles from a main road.

Mrs B Mumford

Rectory Farm, West Torrington, Market Rasen, Lincs.

Dont risk public support

Your Opinion column (Mar 1) attacks Compassion in World Farming for our opposition to live exports, claiming the trade is "legitimate". No trade which regularly leads to great animal suffering can be described as legitimate. Your article suggests that the animals travel in comfort. Thats not true. We have seen the conditions in which British sheep travel on the continent. Packed into overcrowded trucks with insufficient headroom, they are often carried in stifling summer heat in vehicles without water or proper ventilation.

You assert that we "disregard dubious practices overseas". Again, not true. We lobby in Brussels and other EU countries for rigorous enforcement of the rules. However, even if those rules were obeyed to the letter, it is simply not possible to take sheep all the way from Britain to Italy (45 hours) or Greece (70-90 hours) in a way that is consistent with good welfare.

Surely it makes no sense for farmers to risk losing public support by pursuing a trade widely seen as cruel. You smear our petition as "gimmicky" but what is gimmicky about 3400 vets calling for an end to live exports? Elsewhere, the chairman of Farmers Ferry knocks our opinion poll which shows that 78% of the public want this trade to end. The poll was conducted on a properly representative sample of people by the independent company NOP and over 125 MPs have now signed a Commons motion, calling for the live export trade to end.

I urge farmers not to return to live exports. They need not suffer economically by abandoning the trade. The way forwards lies in increasing meat exports and persuading British consumers to buy British, rather than imported lamb.

Peter Stevenson

Political and legal director, CIWF, Charles House, 5a Charles St, Petersfield, Hants.

Coursing aids conservation

I attended, along with some 6000 others, the first day of the Waterloo Cup. This was my first experience of seeing an organised coursing meeting at first hand.

The event was a great deal more natural than I had believed. Every aspect was professionally organised. This is hardly surprising as legal coursing is run under a strict set of rules and codes of conduct. In particularly difficult conditions the organisers and participants should be congratulated.

The object of coursing is to pit the skills of the two dogs against each other but not at the expense of their well-being and certainly not at that of the hares. I did not meet one person who did not wish to see the hare escape. Everything is done to ensure that the healthy ones find sanctuary in their natural surroundings.

Thank you also to the landowner and his predecessors for some 150 years for conserving such a healthy population. Without this, and I suspect at the close of the coursing season, the hares will be the indiscriminate target of the hare poachers.

As with a meet of the stag or foxhounds, the sense of culture and community was every bit as strong in coursing. I have no difficulty in promoting what I saw and standing alongside those who were there.

Here is a minority exercising the right of personal freedom to partake in an activity which causes no harm to the public, is carried out responsibly and without intentionally causing unnecessary suffering to the animals concerned. And, as Lord Burns acknowledged, it produces a host of benefits to hares as a species and their environment.

Sam Butler

Chairman, Campaign for Hunting. countryside

Consultation was whitewash

I write regarding your Talking Point (Mar 1) which refers to the Ythan nitrate vulnerable zone. Those references are not wholly correct. The Ythan NVZ was pushed through on the basis of a condition in the estuary which pre-dated the intensification of farming.

Under threat of a fine of £250,000 for each day of delay from Brussels, the then Scottish Parliament minister Sarah Boyack announced designation – not a proposal to designate – in October 1999. Consultation did follow, but it was a public relations whitewash.

As no breach or impending breach of the criteria set by the nitrate directive could be determined, the precautionary principle was applied. It was used on the ludicrous basis that the estuary may be or may become eutrophic if action pursuant to the nitrate directive was not implemented. That was done without submitting the case for designation to a proper scientific evaluation.

A report on four years research work in the estuary by Dundee University has still not been released. We will not know the conclusions of that report until it is released.

Gordon McCulloch

@RL3:Kamiri, Ellon.

Caught out by six-month rule?

Many applicants will be familiar with the following sorry tale, but it bears repeating. As a means of offering improved financial assistance to farmers converting to organic, the government set up the Organic Farm Scheme.

The first phase proved so popular that it prematurely ran out of funds in Nov 1999. Many disappointed applicants were given the impression that they would have no trouble when the second phase started up. In fact, it was Jan 2001 before the scheme reopened, and with it came a nasty catch. Anyone whose official registration with a certifying body was dated more than six months before the Schemes reopening was ineligible to apply.

Figures suggest that over 400 farmers already committed to conversion may have been caught out. OFS support payments are worth up to £450/ha over five years, so considerable havoc has been caused to budgets.

The NFU considered the six-month rule to be illogical as well as unjust, and has maintained a sustained campaign behind the scenes for a change of attitude. Others, such as MEP Neil Parish, have added their voice. The minister has at last agreed to reconsider and has asked the NFU to provide details of those affected. Anyone who fell foul of the six-month rule and would like DEFRA to look again at their eligibility is asked to write to me at Agriculture House, 164 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8HL. I will then send a brief questionnaire to collect the information required by DEFRA.

Robert Madge

Senior legal adviser, NFU, 164 Shaftsbury Ave, London.

London lad has fun on farm

We live on a dairy farm in West Sussex and last summer a London boy who had never been on holiday came to stay for a week. We did nothing very special, but my children all agreed that ordinary things are more fun with someone different.

I was shocked at how little he knew about the country, but delighted by his interest. He had never touched or fed farm animals or even seen a bull. He thought a mole might kill you and was amazed rabbits lived underground. He has phoned since. "Is the maize cut? Are the cows outside now? How is the bull? And I read the account of my holiday out in school assembly." The visit was definitely a fun, rewarding and worthwhile experience for us all.

The trip was arranged by the charity Childrens Country Holidays Fund. They are looking for host families again this year. For details, call 020-7928 6522 or visit

J Griffiths

Merrion Farm, Partridge Green, Horsham, W Sussex.

Insecticide or gout fly grub?

As an AICC crop consultant advisor, I have listened long and hard to the agrochemical manufacturers this winter telling us of the well trialled benefits of using this new fungicide and that new fungicide on cereals.

Gout fly grub damage is costing cereal growers much more in lost yield than the benefits of these new fungicides are gaining growers in increased yield. So why is nobody able to tell us how to stop gout fly damage?

No trials have been completed successfully showing the huge financial cost to cereal growers of this recently increasing fly grub.

Secur seed dressing gives only a small reduction in gout fly grub damage.

Therefore we are told by the manufacturers of insecticides in their ignorance that as gout fly grubs kill the main plant tillers only early in the growing season, the plant can compensate and no yield is lost. That is untrue.

Gout fly grub damage is spreading across big areas of the west and south. We need to know how to control this fly and grub before the second generation in late spring devastates late-sown spring sown crops.

Come on insecticide manufacturers, we need urgent answers and it is no good telling us now that sowing wheat in late September is the answer.



Two reasons to change BSPS

I support Peter Dongers plea (Letters, Feb 4) for a revision of the second payment under the BSPS from two particular aspects.

First and most important, the two-month retention period hinders the timely marketing of cattle as they reach the ideal level of finish (probably 4L for most outlets).

Second, it would seem more efficient to pay the second premium at slaughter, where the system already exists for payment of the slaughter premium by the Rural Payments Agency. A procedure with reduced administration costs and paperwork for all parties would certainly be welcomed.

But this move would presumably indicate a lower premium, because more steers, if not all, would be claiming the second payment.

But the high proportion of cattle which are sold, often under-finished, as they approach 30 months cannot be related to the second premium, as he infers, rather to the use of later maturing Continental sire breeds which predominate.

The use of earlier maturing breeds, such as the Hereford, achieve a quicker time to slaughter, and avoid the extra unit costs associated with lower conversion rates at higher finishing weights.

R A Bradstock

Free Town, Tarrington, Hereford.

Food prices gone mad

I write regarding Private Eyes Down on the Farm feature (Feb 8). Gumboot takes DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett to task on her governments attitude to farming and free trade.

He points out that their policies rest on a tragically simple error – that food is too expensive. But what consumers pay for in supermarkets, he goes on, is mainly packaging, haulage, advertising and supermarket profit.

"Farmers produce our indigenous food for a farmgate price of £12bn. Consumers spend £60bn buying it and a further £30bn eating out. The farmer value in our food is literally pennies; a loaf of bread 4p; a pint of milk 12p; a lb of mince 20p.

"A years supply of vegetables can be bought from a farmer for £17; the entire diet for just over £200/head."

Meanwhile, Tesco turns over more than the whole of agriculture. "As for subsidies that so cripple the British taxpayer, they amount to £54/head a year," says the magazine.

If a previously prejudiced Private Eye can work it out, why cant Tony Blair?

David Wreathall

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