Archive Article: 2002/07/19

19 July 2002

City homes not needed by farmers

I recently attended a Milk Development Council meeting in which Sean Rickard gave us his controversial opinions on what we should, and should not do, to make agriculture work. I am not keen to live in an economists vision of the countryside.

Perhaps I am foolish, but I treasure the characters, friendships and so called inefficiencies that I find in British agriculture. Quality of life is important.

I suppose that is why so many city folks need to buy their second homes in the countryside so they can chill out away from the thrusting, dynamic, cost cutting, inhumane businesses they work for. I dont know any farmers who need a second home in the city.

Apparently, Mr Rickard was paid £400 plus expenses for the hour-long presentation, which was his second performance that day. It appears to me that being controversial could be a lucrative diversification that I should try.

Gerald Vennall

Fairview Cottage Farm, Quarry Road, Sandford, Winscombe, Somerset.

Crying wolf not reason

Of all the possible reasons for the current plight of UK agriculture, Oliver Walston (Letters, July 5), puts it all down to the NFU crying wolf. Oddly, he doesnt mention his own contribution to the evolution of official farm policy, namely his high profile criticism of subsidies.

How would his business look today without arable aid? To be fair, neither the NFU crying wolf, nor his own attempts at whistle blowing, have had much influence on the current situation. The cause of our present woes was highlighted a decade ago by less flamboyant commentators, such as Stephen Carr and myself, in Big Farm Weekly, and Peter Parrish in Farming News.

I refer of course to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the World Trade Organisation and the whole ghastly business of creating a global market in food products. My criticism of the NFU is that it didnt look at the historical evidence of the link between free trade and farming depression. Had it done so it might have made a greater effort to kill off the concept of a global food market, before it took root, across the political spectrum.

Malcolm Read

Broadmead Farm, West Grimstead, Salisbury, Wilts.

Vilification not NFUs fault

With reference to Oliver Walstons letter (July 5) concerning the lack of sympathy of the British public and government towards agriculture. I wish to point out that his opinions, not for the first time, do not stand up to even casual investigation. We have only to look across the Channel at our French colleagues, who complain continually. Their farmers union FNSEA has issued dire warnings of doom and gloom and abject poverty of its members with far more enthusiasm than the NFU could ever contemplate. Nevertheless, the French public still look upon their farmers with respect, even affection, and their government is supportive of agriculture to a level unimaginable here.

Unlike France, Britain has suffered more than two decades of relentless vilification of farmers and the ceaseless criticism and denigration of British agriculture by politicians and the media alike.

It is a campaign to which Mr Walston has made his own, not insignificant, contribution. So Mr Walston if you want to point the finger as to who is to blame for the lack of sympathy towards farmers please dont point it at former NFU officials. You should point it at yourself.

Robert Treen

Support switch way forward

The recent EU proposals to transfer agricultural support from production to an acreage basis, with environmental and animal welfare goals, is the inevitable way forward. It provides the ideal opportunity to reduce future budgets by salami slicing annual payments or by merely refusing to add inflationary increases.

The main EU problem will be in persuading member countries to agree. A much bolder solution would be to accept that the CAP is not common and, therefore, allow each country to set its own priorities on how to allocate its own budget.

Robert Persey

Upcott Farm, Broadhembury, Honiton, Devon.

Assurance is a one-way street

We run a family arable and beef farm and are joining a farm assurance scheme because we are unable to sell wheat to local feed mills. The grain that goes into their compound feed must be assured with full traceability.

But the maize gluten that we buy from them, which also goes into their feed, is only traceable to the port of entry to the UK and cannot be guaranteed GM free. The same applies to imported feed ingredients such as soya.

Similar nonsense applies to the store cattle that we sell at market. Auctioneers tell us it will be difficult to sell stock that is unassured, but supermarkets and processors sell imported meat with no traceability.

Assurance schemes are biased against farmers. We must have a bunded container to transport agrochemicals yet companies that deliver them to us can do it in a van or a curtain-sided lorry.

Our veterinary health plan states all visitors to the farm must sign a visitors book and record any farm they have visited previously. Do we have to put a visitors book at the end of each footpath because ramblers, with dogs, walk where cattle graze? We also have strict controls about what we can do near a river. Yet near us, a sewage plant discharges after treatment into the River Itchen – two miles upstream from where a water company extracts water to supply a town.

We would not have a problem with assurance if there were a level playing field here and abroad. There should also be an advantage for completing the excessive paperwork in the form of a premium over non-assured, with honest labelling for all food such as "Assured from British farms" or "Cheap foreign imports". The latter to include a health warning!

Bruce Horn

Farmers for Action co-ordinator, Shavards Farm, Meonstoke, Southampton, Hants.

Real source of F&M outbreak

I refer to government chief vet Jim Scudamores statement (News, June 28) that the government rejects claims that foot-and-mouth was started by virus stolen from Porton Down in Wiltshire.

It was the authorised release of this virus during the summer holiday period of 2000 which was almost certainly caused of the epidemic. The source of the outbreak was the research centre situated near Newcastle-upon-Tyne and MAFF knew about the possible consequences during the autumn of 2000 because it took precautionary measures and warned foreign governments.

During the past two years no evidence has been made available concerning the import of contaminated meat. Government has taken no action to control either legal or illegal imports of meat.

It is most unlikely that Burnside Farm was the source of this outbreak. But Mr Waugh was a suitable scapegoat. That was borne out at his subsequent trial at Bedlington where he was cleared of all charges relating to the spread of F&M. The pictures published by the media were taken two days after MAFF had entered the farm.

It must be no coincidence that Jim Scudamores report was released so that it could be published on the same day as the Institute of Rural Health held a conference on the effects of F&M at Wetheral, near Carlisle. On that day Mr Waugh was sentenced at Bedlington Magistrates Court. Why could Newcastle Trading Standards Department afford costs of £90,000 to obtain such a derisory conviction?

In the absence of a public inquiry, many questions remain unanswered. Probably the most pertinent is whether MAFF and its agents were conducting experimental work where F&M virus was used in genetic engineering studies? And why were so many animals compulsorily slaughtered which did not have the disease?

Arnold Pennant

Nant Gwilym, Tremeirchion, St Asaph, Denbighshire.

Investing time not money

It is strange how organic production follows a similar pattern to the emergence of free-range egg production many years ago. I anticipate this mirroring effect of the two industries will continue into the future.

During the birth of these two virgin industries, they became fashionable, well publicised and demand outstripped supply, resulting in excessively high prices. Even poor producers could make a fair financial return.

High prices attract more production and, consequently, prices fall. Sadly, the business becomes unfashionable and the hype changes from encouraging production to concentrating on falling prices. That leads to the misconception that lower prices automatically mean unprofitable production. It is the inefficient enterprises that lose money which creates this false view.

In reality, there is plenty of profit to be made by the efficient producer who maximises production and is financially well set up, and who continues to profit at the lower prices.

Lower prices then become the norm which, in many cases, still allows attractive financial returns. Meanwhile, the cynics and critics continue to highlight a depressing picture.

In the developing stages of the virgin industry, supply and demand is difficult to balance. But in time they come into equilibrium and the market becomes more stable.

The demand for organic and free-range eggs, both associated with healthy eating, the environment and animal welfare, will increase. What I cannot predict is a time scale of the percentage growth, and that is the million-dollar question affecting both sectors.

My advice to most farmers is not necessarily to go organic, but educate yourselves on the industry, allocate time, not necessarily money, even possibly experiment. But remember a virgin industry learns quickly. The obstacles of today will not be those of the future.

John Bowler

John Bowler (Agriculture), Ivy Court, Etwall, Derby.

In the end we will get there

I write in reply to Lesley Abrahams letter (June 14). The Rural Payment Agency is responsible for the administration of all CAP schemes in England and for certain schemes, including milk quotas and the over-thirty-month-scheme, throughout the UK. Our office in Carlisle is responsible for CAP payments for the Isle of Wight.

RPA was established on Oct 16, 2001 as part of a wider programme of restructuring MAFFs, now DEFRAs, presence in the regions. The development of RPA is an evolutionary process that will involve the introduction of new information technology systems and the centralisation of its operations to fewer processing sites. That work will deliver numerous benefits in the long term, such as improved cash flow, as claims are processed more efficiently, accurately and promptly.

In the short term, customers may experience some disruption as work is transferred, but we aim to keep this to a minimum. RPA staff are experienced in processing claims and have access to the relevant case histories so that they can deal with queries promptly regardless of their location.

As work has moved, customers have been informed in writing and provided with contact details of the new office dealing with their claims. If the work has moved outside the local area, as in the case of the Isle of Wight, customers have been provided with a local rate telephone number to call.

We would like to assure Lesley Abraham and all our customers that RPA is committed to providing a high quality customer service.

Penny Corkish

Press officer, Rural Payments Agency.

Waugh images are disastrous

I write following the anonymous letter (July 5) which defended the Northumbrian farmer Mr Waugh and claimed that he was subjected to a show trial. It demonstrates an attitude that every livestock keeper should condemn. The scenes filmed at Mr Waughs farm and shown several times on TV, damaged the livestock industry. The phrase: "Mr Waugh might have been a little behind the times with his husbandry techniques," is nonsense.

The farming industry is in crisis. One reason is that people are buying less meat and an increasing number of those who do are becoming concerned about how it is reared.

The vast majority of UK stock rearers are highly professional, hard working and caring people who are dedicated to the welfare of their animals. We are also lucky in that our climate enables us to raise the best livestock in the world.

But no matter how hard we work, and however good the product, someone has to pay hard-earned money for it. Significant numbers wont if they see scenes like those shown at Mr Waughs farm.

Animal welfare is an issue that will not go away. Scenes, like those shown at Mr Waughs farm, do have an impact. Struggling on with the but weve always done it this way attitude is the certain road to disaster. Shipbuilding, coal mining and many other industries have collapsed with the loss of millions of jobs.

Unlike them, the farming industry is still fighting and has the advantage of a considerable groundswell of sympathy with the public as shown during the foot-and-mouth crisis. Lets not squander that sympathy by defending the indefensible.

Brian Howell

Beer Mill Farm, Beercrocombe, Somerset.

Beckett & Co are a disgrace

Reading about Mrs Beckett, Lord Whitty and Mr Morley asserting that farming should be sustainable and that the family farm has a future, while they oversee the demise of as many businesses as possible, makes my blood boil. They must be delighted that farmers have run up the white flag with their lack of resistance to the culling of their livelihoods.

The £500m recommended in the Curry report, but typically delayed, is now said to have grown to £1bn. Who would bet on anymore than a fraction of that money being made available?

The full impact of 3% modulation, never mind 20%, has not been recognised. For example, a 200ha arable unit receiving £227/ha gets about £45,000 worth of IACS payments. And 3% of that is £1362. If net farm income was £5-10k before modulation, an average of £7500 minus £1362 means a reduction of 18%. Although we are promised that agri-environmental schemes will compensate for that, the evidence suggests it is a total deception.

If farmers are unconvinced of the threat to their business they should consider that the John Nix Pocketbook predicts wheat gross margins of £460/ha with fixed costs of £520/ha for this years harvest.

Many dairy and livestock farms are suffering similarly. All disillusioned and non NFU farmers should unite behind the union and dictate positive action to its leaders.

It is time for Mr Gill to take the white flag down and remove the kid gloves while there are enough farmers to make a protest.

J Heslop

Langton Farm, Gainford, Darlington, Co Durham.

Arla will study market first

Express Milk Partnership chairman, Jonathan Ovens, is right to question the commercial necessity of recent milk price reductions by Dairy Crest and Robert Wiseman Dairies (Business, July 5). But he is wrong to seek to speak on behalf of Arla Foods.

The decision we arrive at will be based on consultation with our producer groups and careful analysis of the market. Any movement in price will be communicated by us at the appropriate time.

Philip J Wilkinson

Commercial director, Arla Foods plc.

Put TB money to better use

Thank you to Mr Hancox for replying (June 28) to my letter. Im amazed at the large sum of money first MAFF, now DEFRA, continues to spend on killing badgers.

If as Mr Hancox says bovine TB is increasing, and the badger cull is not working, surely the money should be put to better use. More cash could be spent on a vaccine to protect cattle, and higher compensation for farmers.

Or does DEFRA intend to continue killing cattle and badgers in the hope that if you keep trying something will turn up?

Pamela Dean

Brynella, Field Road, Whiteshill, Nr Stroud, Glos.

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