11 September 1998


Why is price of UK bacon so high?

I understand that the British pig industry is in the depths of a depression. I normally buy British bacon loose, but recently bought a packet to put into the freezer.

Can anyone explain why British back bacon is £6.15/kg at Sainsburys, while British (I hope) back bacon, vacuum packed, at Morrisons is a mere £3.99/kg? The packet is marked "UK VY 210 EEC".

If producer prices are so low, why are consumer prices so high?

Mrs Margaret Warburton

Brook House Farm, Higher Lane, Lower Whitley, Warrington, Cheshire.

How to curb rise in pig herd

I shall use David Turtons letter (Aug 28) next time I attempt to teach the hog cycle to the new intake of students. It may help to convince them that the phenomenon exists and that economic theory could be a valuable tool in understanding agricultural markets.

However, it is unrealistic to expect individuals to take decisions that benefit the whole rather than themselves. It reminds me of the story of the princess who wished to bathe in asses milk. Her father ordered each peasant to bring one bucket of milk to fill her bath during the night. In the morning she awoke to find her bath full of water.

Each peasant had reasoned that if all the others brought milk, their bucket of water would make no difference. Any attempt to get a voluntary restraint in expanding herd sizes as prices rise is likely to have a similar result. Each individual farmer increasing output in the hope that the rest wont accomplish anything.

The only policy that would stop rapid expansion of the pig herd in response to rising prices is a managed market, possibly with quotas. The choice then would be between an unstable free market and a stable regulated one. David is right; it would have to be on a European-wide basis. But it would also require import controls which are unlikely to be allowed by the World Trade Organisation.

Alison Monk

Senior lecturer in agricultural economics, Harper Adams University College, Newport, Shropshire.

Headmasters sound advice

I smiled when reading Mr Mitchells letter (Aug 21). When my Latin master learned that I was leaving school he said, in front of our class of 30 pupils, "Well, Bird, I hear you are leaving us at the end of term and sorry to think you will be spreading muck for the rest of your life".

I replied: "Well Sir, one thing is certain. I shall have more success muck spreading than you have had trying to teach us Latin".

On my last day at school in July 1941, the headmaster called me to his study and told me not to give up on education. Because I was going into farming, he advised me to read FARMERS WEEKLY and to make a point of taking in all of the latest information. This I did, and looking back I realise what good advice that was.

Mr Mitchell and I have another thing in common. I also used to turn first to A G Streets article.

F D Bird

The Old Hall, Riston Road, Catwick, Beverley, East Yorks.

True cause of the beef crisis

Although I did not hear Jeff Rooker utter the words "We gave the World BSE", after reading your Letters section (Aug 27) I feel compelled to comment. At present, the statistical evidence to support the theory that new variant CJD is linked to eating beef is virtually non-existent.

What Mr Rooker meant to say was "We gave Britain the beef crisis". The word "we" in this case meaning, himself and his party, the media with the help of Prof Lacy, and cranky vegetarian minority pressure groups, whose presence in the main-stream media is becoming increasingly obvious.

The causes of BSE in cattle still seem unclear. But one thing is certain; the persons behind the causes are unlikely to be held to account. The severe impact on Britains livestock industry can be blamed on the way this issue has been used, abused, exploited and manipulated by forces over which we have little or no control.

One thing still baffles me. If nvCJD is contracted by eating beef, why hasnt one case been reported on the Continent? We exported thousands of tons of concentrate, plus breeding stock throughout the so-called danger period. Furthermore, why are Continental cattle still fed meat and bone meal while the public continues to eat mechanically-recovered meat?

R &#42 Collins

Downhayes Farm, Lewdown, Okehampton, Devon.

Is quota leasing worth effort?

Is anyone asking the same question as me? Am I making money by leasing in extra milk quota?

Several years ago we were well over quota after Christmas. So I cut the cake and nothing happened. Eventually, I worked out that the negative effect of cake-cutting on individual yield had been about 1kg/litre. At that point, leasing a litre of quota cost about 12p. Cake was about £150/t (15p/kg) so every litre of milk cost 27p at the margin and I was getting only 23p.

Next autumn, instead of feeding 9kg concentrates per cow at peak and gradually stepping downwards, I fed 6kg. We produced 6500 litres/cow off 1t of concentrates instead of 7200 litres off 1.7t. The last 700 litres of milk required 700kg of cake, or 1kg/litre.

What is your cows response to cake at the margin? Research showed that at 5500 litres, it was 0.5/litre and at 7000 litres it was 1.2kg litre. I seem to have confirmed that at my herds yield.

The other side of the question is do we carry more cows; assuming we have the building capacity and land? If all this extra milk is produced through leased in quota, our extra profit will be about £550 after paying for cake and quota. That assumes leasing in 6000 litres at 18p off 1t at £110 for a first lactation and a lease cost of 7p/litre. If we can sell that extra heifer for more than £550, it must be a more profitable option.

Sometimes, in my dreams, I imagine that I own all my quota. I am not certain whether I couldnt make more money at the margin cutting cake and leasing some of my quota out rather than busting a gut to fill quota; especially if I am feeding my cows more than 1t of concentrates.

Am I forgetting something or are we all crazy paying silly quota prices?

Nicholas Viney

Whitecliff Farm, Swanage, Dorset.

Policy will let in the Americans

It was George Dunns predecessors at the TFA who allowed themselves to be dragooned into agreeing to the substance of the 1995 Act (Business, Aug 21).

It was clear at the time that this was to be a landlords charter. There was never any prospect that it would cater for tenants interests.

As a minority of us argued at the time, it was a recipe for big farmers to get bigger still and the devil take the rest.

Agricultural holdings legislation over the past 100 years has meant that if tenants interests were not protected by statute, tenants were abused because they are usually the weaker party.

The policy behind the 1948 Act (later the 1986 Act) was similar in approach to that behind the establishment of the Milk Marketing Board at a time when governments were concerned about farming matters. It was to provide a statutory framework for producers who are in a vulnerable position if governed by nothing more than freedom of contract. It was also intended to provide for the orderly and secure production of home food supplies in peace and in war.

The complacency of recent governments towards home food production has become possible because farmers foolishly believed the advice of politicians and chemical companies that the production of food surpluses would bring big profits. It wont. It will bankrupt them and has begun to do so. Many have gone already.

Thus, Britain will not go forward; it will go back 100 years to the time when much of this countrys food derived from North American surpluses. Thats if their own Freedom To Go Bust Bill hasnt ruined most of their farmers first.

In the 1986 Act, Section 2 needs redrafting to allow flexibility in lettings of fewer than five years and to provide that tenancies of more than five years should be retirement tenancies by law.

That would give landlords possession on the tenant reaching 65 years of age, and with no obligation to renew or to let to a named successor.

On present showing, there will be no new generation to run the high financial risks of producing food in Britain. Food shortages in Britain well suit the scenario mapped out by multinational commodity traders determined to find a home in Britain for huge American agricultural surpluses. Thats what the World Trade Organisation is all about.

Stuart Pattison

Church Lane, Calstock, Cornwall.

Campaign could bring in £30m

Your article (News, Aug 28) on a report into the effects of generic milk marketing, commissioned by the NFU and the Milk Development Council, seems confused about one of its key findings. As the author of the report, perhaps I can help.

At one point, the article seems to claim that the report shows that £30m would need to be spent to increase the liquid milk market by a total of 135m litres. In fact, the report estimates that a spend of £10m in one year would increase the market by 135m litres over a two-year period. Thereafter, a £10m a year campaign would maintain the 135m increase in the market indefinitely.

The key issue for the farming community is what impact this increase in demand for liquid milk might have on the price of raw milk. Our estimates suggest that a £10m a year generic advertising campaign might permanently increase the milk price by 0.24p per litre. That would produce a potential benefit to the dairy farmer of just under £30m a year.

Bryan Finn

MMD, 78-80 St John Street, London.

Nothing new in research results

A recent article in one of our national newspapers revealed the research conclusions of Dr Martin Seabrook of Nottingham Universitys Rural Business Research Unit. Apparently dairy cows produce more milk if you talk to them. If this is the best he can come up with after spending £50,000 on this research project, all dairy farmers should receive a doctorate.

Anyone who has ridden or driven a horse or kept a pet knows the importance of communication in order to instil confidence between animal and owner. To spend, through the National Dairy Council, £60,000 of dairy farmers money is, during this miserable time, insulting. Perhaps Dr Seabrook would consider buying a dairy farm with 100 cows and quota? He could then talk to the cows until they came home but he would still go bust.

M V L Pearce

Lordswood Farms, James Street West, Green Park, Bath.

EU is stacked against UK

Last February, you published a letter from me, criticising the British farming industry for its apparent acceptance of the inevitability of the European Union – even though it was decimating traditional UK agriculture. I contended that British agriculture would always suffer from EU membership, if only because the EU is stacked against us.

Your recent coverage would seem to confirm that you, too, are victim of this mind-set. You speak of a catalogue of horrors, all stemming mainly from the strength of sterling. That is subjective in the extreme. If we were in the real world, free to support our farming activities with a deficiency payment system directed at supplying the bulk of the needs of our 55m inhabitants, the strength (or weakness) of sterling would be but a minor irritant.

Welsh farmers survival would not depend on the facility to transport live sheep 300 miles to the port of Dover, for shipment to a French port and an even longer road journey at the mercy of Continental hauliers who have not the slightest commitment to animal welfare.

There would be no need to export to Europe the same agricultural products that Continental farmers can more easily export to us as a result their greater inclination to fix and rig. Thanks to EU subsidies, France ranks second only to the US in terms of agricultural exports. But then, the French government exists solely to defend and promote the French national interest and to bear-hug any nation, like ours, that proclaims naively its intention to put itself at the heart of Europe.

Only when our farmers accept these truisms and collectively demand Britains withdrawal from the EU, can they, and the rest of us, have any hope for the future?

Tony Stone

1 Home Park, Oxted, Surrey.

Teach townies in village pub

When I was a lad, there were two places in the village where the local farming fraternity met to discuss business and exchange gossip. One was the village blacksmiths and the other was the nearby Plough Inn.

It goes to show how farming has changed. Many fields were won or lost over a pub game of cards or dominoes. For all I know, some wives were won or lost too, as in Thomas Hardys Mayor of Casterbridge.

Today, the village pub has adopted a different role; especially where newcomers, mainly townies, are concerned. The only way they can learn about those of us born in villages is in the village pub.

Unfortunately, that trend can do some of us harm, particularly if a newcomer strikes up a conversation with one of your enemies. And most of us have some of those these days.

Village pubs are struggling to survive, along with the farming folk who use them. It will be a sad day if they are lost, as, for many, they are the only source of entertainment in isolated villages. They are a vital link in the community. They allow us country joskins to educate the townies about the village and farming facts.

Robin Graham

Ivyhouse, Hollym, Withernsea, E Yorks.

Ragwort threat to humans

I read with interest your article, "Root out that ragwort" (Livestock, Jul 31). I would like to make your readers aware that ragwort is very poisonous not only to animals but also to humans.

Two people (possibly three) that I know have been very ill this summer with poisoning after pulling ragwort from their fields.

Typical symptoms of ragwort poisoning are stomach cramps, swollen joints, a very itchy rash and an ulcerated mouth and throat and a general feeling of malaise for several days.

Veronica Sutton

Temple Farm, Sibson, Nuneaton, Warwicks.

Act now to halt ragwort spread

I agree with David Nicholsons comments (Letters, Aug 28) regarding ragwort. I dread to think of the problems we will have with this evil weed in 10 years time. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of the population is likely to be concerned with removing it. Even horse owners in this area seem oblivious to the dangers as horses and ponies are allowed to graze in forests of ragwort.

But it is not just an equine problem; cattle are also at risk. I recently travelled 200 miles on the M6 north of Birmingham and saw ragwort growing along the whole route. In places it was being removed by the local authority. But pulling ragwort only stops seeding and does nothing to eradicate the weed and spraying is expensive.

People lucky enough not to have ragwort in their area should do all in their power to remove any plants near their fields.

P Dixon

Chase Farm, Roughley, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands.

Benefits more than marginal

Well managed field margins may be of major benefit to farming in the future. Such areas could be managed to benefit farming, wildlife and the public.

The plant species used can be manipulated depending on the priority of the farmer. Species can be included which encourage game birds, the establishment of beetle banks, refuges for beneficial insects and the regeneration of rare hedgerow flowers.

The current set-aside scheme has not been a great success. Taxpayers feel they are paying farmers for doing nothing. Fields often look unsightly with pernicious weeds growing on them. They are not permanent enough for wildlife populations to establish and they do not overcome the problem of disjunct populations.

A countryside management scheme would overcome all those drawbacks. Taxpayers would see an attractive well managed field margin and would feel that they were getting value for money.

Farmers would be able to manipulate plant species to suit their particular interests and wildlife would have a stable habitat. The only losers may be the campaigners for the freedom to roam as it would not be a good idea to disturb these habitats.

M R Scott

Clewitts Cottage, Bramley, Tadley, Hants.

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