Archive Article: 2002/08/23

23 August 2002

Marts are facing their deathknell

The closure of the giant, modern Penrith livestock market is another nail in the coffin for all livestock markets. The move follows several other recent closures in Scotland, Gloucester, Stratford-upon-Avon, Preston, Banbury and some in smaller market towns.

Inevitably, many more markets will shut unless they receive more support.

UK livestock markets are currently selling 10% of all finished cattle and 25% of finished sheep. Before foot-and-mouth the figures were 45% and 65%, respectively. Few markets can survive on store sales alone.

When market sales of finished stock end, producers will be at the mercy of the supermarkets and large abattoirs. Remember, the prices being paid for lambs about a year ago when markets were closed: 41-42kg lambs were fetching only £23-24. Finished cattle were at 160-165p/kgdw for the best, and much less for others.

The fact that markets are open again has virtually doubled lamb prices and cattle are up a little. Cattle prices today should be much higher and they would be if more were sold at auction. Producers who support deadweight sales are making it unnecessary for the larger scale buyers to attend markets, thus depressing pricesfurther .

A similar scenario occurred in Ireland a few years ago. Producers deserted live auctions, selling deadweight, which resulted in market closures. Prices are now always low and producers have gone on strike for better prices on two occasions.

So, wake up, you livestock producers who have deserted the markets, before it is too late. The loyal supporters of the live auctions have done you proud but you are riding on their backs. Dont be hoodwinked, like milk producers were during the winding up the Milk Marketing Board. Most large dairy farmers thought they were going to be much better off in the process. Now look at the scene, with such low prices driving dairymen out of business in droves.

Supermarkets, large abattoirs, MLC, the government, RSPCA and animal rights organisations all want livestock markets to end. Unless deadweight sellers see the light, they will get their own way and you will have achieved their aims and will suffer accordingly. Why are the NFU, FUW, SFU so silent on this creeping disaster – can they not have the foresight to see whats happening?

Livestock farmers, the future is in your hands. Our markets have served you well for 150 years. Are you prepared to scupper them and jeopardise your future by selling deadweight for a very doubtful pittance extra?

R G Williams

Hill Farm, Marstow, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire.

Serious milk action overdue

Having watched the TV programme Milk Wars (Channel 4, Sat, Aug 10), I feel compelled to write about low farmgate commodity prices.

The government does not wish to help farmers because any increase would mean food prices rising. It would also go against its policy of buying anything from around the world provided it is cheap. I hear that Polish grain is going into large egg producers from Southampton docks at £40/t and Polish milk is going into West Country processing plants at 6-8p/litre. Is that true?

Letter after letter in FARMERS WEEKLY urges us that it is time to do something. So come on NFU, how about organising on-farm action? Blockading milk tankers until there is a shortage would provoke a public outcry which would lead to a price rise. At worst, it would mean we dont reach quota, furthermore, dairy farmers would benefit from a drop in quota prices. Such action would require only one farmer on every collection round, to take part. Most could sit back and watch, which is something a lot are good at.

The government takes notice only when it is seriously embarrassed, as was apparent in the fuel protest. The public will soon kick up a fuss if they dont get their pinta. But we must show that this dire situation is due to the failure of ministers to support British agriculture.

Our industry needs properly organised public relations, someone skilled in media interviews – not clumsy NFU officers. If, as the Milk Wars programme suggests, the OFT is against the price of milk rising, then strong steps must be taken to make a difference. So come on NFU, stand up or you will lose all credibility and I will cancel my subscription! We must all stand together on this for our future and the future of British farming.

Gayne Cooper

Is set-aside best option?

As farmers rush to gather in another harvest to hopefully cover the costs of their years work, it will be apparent that cereals are going to lose substantial sums on most, if not all, farms.

There is nothing much that can be done for this harvest, but thought must be given to the next. The IAACS payments are the same for set-aside or cereals planted. The government has set a maximum of 50% set-aside. This option seems to make sense. Planting second wheats, and drilling in anything but perfect conditions must be avoided. Marginal or thin soils are no longer cost-effective.

Another factor to consider is exchange rates of sterling. The firm price of oil is clearly helping the value of sterling, which will keep its strength at least until next harvest. The $ may weaken further which will effectively reduce the price of $-priced commodities, which will further depress grain prices.

The outlook is bleak, but it may make more sense to sit in a chair and do nothing, rather than use the IACCS cheque to pay the shortfall in growing cereals. What do other farmers think?

M Moore

Manor Farm, Trunch, Norfolk.

Glossy booklet final insult

I have just read the latest nonsense from DEFRA regarding the keeping of poultry. This glossy booklet must have cost the earth to produce. If this is the kind of thing DEFRA staff are paid to produce at taxpayers expense, the sooner they are given the sack the better.

There are many small-scale farmers, including milk, pig and poultry producers, who are struggling to keep their heads above water, who must be incensed with the utter stupidity of this document. Having survived the trauma of BSE and then the mishandling of the foot-and-mouth outbreak, they must be wondering if this government and their civil servants have gone completely mad.

Is DEFRAs staff just following government orders to get rid of as many farmers as possible? If so, this country can import all the food that the country needs, instead of just most of it as it does at the moment.

I am sure taxpayers would rather the government spent their money supporting hard-working small-scale farmers, rather than sending out useless booklets. After all, farmers know more about keeping their animals in good heart than any Whitehall civil servant.

I have a feeling that all these rules and regulations coming from DEFRA are intended to get rid of as many farmers as possible without anyone noticing. Perhaps Prime Minister Tony Blair should spend a little more time at home finding out what is happening to the people who are the backbone of Britain.

Small-scale farmers are responsible for giving us some of the most beautiful countryside in the world; make no mistake if we lose them we will lose the countryside as we know it for ever.

Let us all hope the NFU and the rest of us have the guts to stand up for ourselves and ensure the government does not get away with this latest rubbish, or the ridiculous 20-day standstill which was no doubt introduced to break the camels back.

Betty G Henderson

Foyle Farm, Merle Common, Oxted, Surrey.

Courses for chickens…

A few days ago I received a booklet from DEFRA about keeping chickens.

I seriously question DEFRAs competence when I read this passage: "Young birds should be given, where possible, appropriate experience of management practices and environmental conditions to enable them to adapt to the husbandry systems which they will encounter later in life."(Code of recommendations for the welfare of livestock – Laying Hens, page 6, paragraph 11).

Anyone know where such management practice courses are available? Please let my chickens know, or are they only for high fliers?

John Bray (Aged 13)

Pool Hall Farm, Menheniot, Liskeard, Cornwall

Keep em all out for 20 days

The government has extended the 20-day movement ban on livestock. Officials, including a chief vet Keith Baker, say farmers should be doing more (News, Aug 2).

Fine. As we know, many cases of foot-and-mouth were preceded by visits from government officials, DEFRA, and state vets, and any link has not been denied by a full inquiry because there hasnt been one.

We are obliged by DEFRA to implement bio-security measures.

All farmers should, therefore, impose a 20-day movement restriction, namely that no government officials will be allowed on farm if they have been on any livestock farm within the previous 20 days.

If they want a 20-day standstill, let them have it.

M R Casswell

Springthorpe Grange, Gainsborough, Lincs.

Sussex road blitz senseless

The report that Sussex police and HSE inspectors are to target agricultural vehicles while we struggle with difficult harvest weather, proves how government departments and other authorities fail to understand the farming industry (Machinery, Aug 9).

The figures quoted by HSE inspector Mike Walters do not tie up with the figures quoted in the HSE annual reports of fatal injuries. The impression is given that these are road accidents, but the HSE does not collect data relating to road accidents and the police do not identify agricultural vehicles in their accident data, so to what do the quoted 44 self-employed and 30 employees relate?

How many of the "transport related incidents" are due to factors which may be identified by a roadside check and how many were caused by driver error?

HSE inspectors can go on to any farm at any time for any purpose. Is the HSE now so short of inspectors and know-how that it has to get police assistance?

The police do not enforce the Health and Safety at Work regulations and the HSE does not enforce traffic law, so it is difficult to see what is to be gained by a joint blitz.

John Beaumont

Tuckingmill, Tisbury, Salisbury, Wilts.

Certified seed facts ignored

UKASTA policy director, Paul Rooke, is defending his members position on certified seed (Letter, Aug 9). There are however a few simple facts which he has conveniently overlooked.

Farmers, who have their own seed processed on-farm, do so secure in the knowledge that it cannot become contaminated either during storage or processing without their knowledge.

Many UKASTA members are now accepting farm-saved seed into their seed plants to spread their costs. Those plants are equipped with large intake and holding bins and for processing continued runs of single varieties. That prompts the real concern of varietal purity and traceability because, as no doubt Mr Rooke is aware, it is illegal for seed from one holding to be transferred to another. In his letter Mr Rooke also states that the varietal purity levels of certified seed are guaranteed by legislation, but that does not protect the end user from operator error as can be seen in the claim currently being resolved by insurers. I am led to believe that in this particular incident a merchants "quality" seed grower managed to contaminate a substantial batch of consort with Claire. Not only was there some Claire in the Consort and vice-versa, but all the Claire was sold as Consort and vice-versa. Despite all guaranteed purity and ad-mixture controls, that was not actually noticed until after ear emergence. As Mr Rooke mentioned, thank goodness for product liability insurance.

Mobile seed processors who are registered with the NAAC Verified Seed Scheme have to be as professional, if not more so, than the certified seed trade, because they are constantly being unfairly criticised by the likes of UKASTA. Is this due to the fact that the seed produced over gravity separators, on-farm, by fully qualified and experienced operators at a lower price but of equal if not superior quality to that of certified seed, is an embarrassment to their members?

J M Exley

Regional Business Manager, TGS Seeds, Overland Industrial Park, Sudbury Road, Great Welnetham, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

Farmland bird decline blame?

It is good to see Darren Moorcroft (Arable, Aug 9) admit on behalf of the RSPB that foxes and crows need controlling in nature conservation.

However, Mr Bishop (Letters, Aug 9) correctly spotlights the RSPBs misleading line on predation particularly by raptors.

No thinking farmer has ever contended that predators were responsible for the decline of farmland birds, this is a myth invented and perpetuated by the RSPB. Modern farming was responsible for the decline. But however much we may restore habitat, it is predation which is inhibiting recovery.

New farm woodlands are a naive error. Far from being good for conservation, they harbour every predator of hard-pressed open field species.

T R Cook

Sennowe Park, Guist, Norfolk.

Uruguay meat grows slowly

I enjoy reading farmers weekly and thought you may like to hear from my part of the world. This is Uruguay, sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil, South America.

Our main export is beef and mutton grown naturally, without growth hormones, or any other unnatural means. It is based entirely on natural pasture grazing in the open air and sun.

Consequently, our production figures are inferior to other beef and mutton producing countries. I wonder if the apparent lack of desire to produce more is not partly the cause of our meats low market value.

The quality of our meat could also be considered medium. But animals for beef and mutton at grass produce a different product to those from stock that are indoor fed or mass produced in a feedlot. Natural production is slower and produces a redder meat with more taste. And the fat on it is of a different composition.

Quality in meat is defined by tenderness, colour and fat. Tenderness comes with young age, but with beef, the meat is tender till two years old, so there is plenty of time to grow the correct weight in a tender way.

Meat colour is also an indicator of quality. The whiter the more tender, the redder the tougher. The fat is not fat under normal natural conditions. The inter-muscle fat of lambs is beneficial to human health, producing the good cholesterol and getting rid of the bad.

A second cause for our low meat market value is foot-and-mouth. Under a correct vaccination programme there is no financial loss. The vaccine process is the same as that used to inoculate humans and which has saved millions of lives.

Norman Martin

Estancia Chica, Conchillas 70004, Dpto. De Colonia, Uruguay, South America.

Assurance is the only way

Bruce Horn (Letters, July 19) is missing the point when he complains about farm assurance. The ultimate goal of farm assurance is to give UK farmers a competitive edge over everyone else.

But it requires work from all of us to differentiate ourselves from our competitors and demonstrate to the public that we are producing to rigorous standards. Mr Horn may be right to complain that in the past imports have not always met the same assurance standards. But the situation is now changing fast. We are in serious danger of being overtaken.

If we want British-farmed food to be the first choice of the shopper, then we cannot sit back and hope for the best. We cannot take a single sale for granted in todays global market. Assurance is indeed a one-way street because there can be no turning back. Assurance is the only street in a modern food supply chain.

David Clarke

Chief executive, Assured Food Standards, PO Box 30773, London.

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