30 October 1998


Austrian meat fully traceable

Following the continued debate on the inability of British supermarkets to label products correctly, and to offer consumers choice, I would like to inform FW readers of the apparent differences in Austria.

I work at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Vienna, following my recent graduation in animal science from the University of Nottingham. I was amazed recently to find farmers names and addresses on every cut of meat, dairy product and box of eggs at my local Billa supermarket.

That applies to both pre-packed and loose meat, with the label also stating clearly (unlike the tiny small print of our supermarkets) that the animal was both born and slaughtered in Austria.

Also after doing my weekly shopping, I discovered a message on my receipt which said that the supermarket is paying pig farmers 10% more a kg due to the current economic crisis. Prices at this supermarket are no more expensive than any other in Vienna. And yet they, unlike their British counterparts, are attempting to assist the farming out of the current depression.

Perhaps Sainsbury, Tesco, etc, should take note. But I suppose that theyre too busy making profits at the British farmers expense.

Clair Firth

Potzleinsdorferstrasse 40, A-1180 Wien, Austria.

Buying British boosts welfare

I would like to reply to the letter (Oct 2) from Peter Stevenson of Compassion in World Farming. So Mr Stevenson agrees that welfare standards on British farms and on the ferry are good?

He should take a step back and try to understand the meaning of the word world which appears in the title of his organisation. Instead of secret cameras stuck up jumpers, he would be better employed trying to persuade the British public to buy British meat which is produced to high welfare standards. He should also try to persuade people not to take their holidays in France, Greece, Italy or Spain which have low welfare standards.

Mr Stevenson should criticise the governments of these countries and the British public and get off our backs.

G Henderson

Westtown, Sorn, Ayrshire.

Milk industry cartel must end

We have at last seen the sugar cartel ended. When will we see an end to the cartel in the milk industry?

K R J Sherrell

Oakham Farm, Portbury Lane, Portbury, Bristol.

Lamb selling at an inflated price

We keep reading how sheep are selling for only the cost of a lamb chop. But when I bought a leg of lamb last month in a supermarket, it cost £7. And it appeared to be pumped up with water. After cooking, it made only five portions, having shrunk to half its original size. No wonder lamb is not selling as fast as it might. Some gross profiteering is taking place at wholesale level.

Why cant farmers band together to form co-operative butchers, who sell only to the public and whose profits go back to the farmers? If there is a law against it, band together to get the law changed. Take it one step further and start your own abattoirs.

Many farmers cannot afford to subscribe to such a scheme, but it is a matter of doing so or being forced out of business. Surely there are enough to get the scheme started?

Farming has much too low a profile. How many have written to the national papers to make the public aware that prices of meat will fall to affordable levels only if they support farmers? Badger your MP. Petition the Prime Minister.

Once driven out of business, cheap foreign imports will allow the supermarkets to charge whatever they like at the publics expense.

Farmers should fight for their rights, like other deserving workers, or few will be farming in five years time.

Michael Faunce-Brown

Woodlands, Dousland, Yelverton, Devon.

Hit supermarts with legal acts

The current farm crisis will not be solved by us taking the French option of force and illegal barricading. Ghandi showed the whole world the power of peaceful, but determined protest. He taught us how to protest by reversing the situation and using it against your opponent.

Supermarkets operate wholly to bring customers in through the doors and out through the checkouts so lets help them.

I propose that on organised days all farmers and farm workers go to their local supermarkets and buy one (the cheapest?) item in the shop. Of course folk being forgetful may find when they come out that they have forgotten some of their shopping and may need to go back to the shop and buy another item.

Everybody will be happy. The supermarkets will have lots of customers, the farmers will no doubt meet lots of their friends in the queues that will undoubtedly form and the supermarket employees will have plenty of overtime.

Some supermarkets will even be able to test out their policies of "no more than two in the queue".

Before readers pooh-pooh the power of such action may I remind them that Ghandi conquered a country run by none other than the British Empire using such tactics.

David Caple

Firlands Farm, Marklye Lane, Heathfield, East Sussex.

Home produce is costly option

The British Retail Consortium has costed a lamb from the abattoir to the shop but it has not costed expenses that farmers have to incur to satisfy UK and EU legislation. In the egg industry that is about 20% of production costs.

Standards for environment protection, employment pay and conditions, consumer protection, and animal welfare are higher in the UK than in the EU or anywhere else. So it is inevitable that home-produced food will be more costly than imports.

In order to understand the financial burdens imposed on the pig and poultry industries, and those for beef and lamb, the Royal Bath and West of England Society is offering two scholarships of £4500 each to study and evaluate these costs compared with our major competitors. It is hoped that there will be high quality applicants from trade associations, the NFU, ADAS, and university economics departments so that we can form the best picture of UK food production costs. Applications are available from the Society at the Showground, Shepton Mallet.

Once the farming industry can show the public the costs being incurred by farmers to satisfy the publics needs, it will be much easier to persuade the multiples to source from within the UK and the public to buy British.

R P Vocleker

Avils Farm, Lower Stanton, St Quintin, Nr Chippenham, Wilts.

Subsidies push prices skyward

The flaws in David Richardsons article (Oct 2) are a repeat of those which introduced trade union legislation which led to gross inefficiencies and abuse by socialism and ultimately to communism.

All power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Why else did Labour have 18 years in the wilderness?

The principle of supply and demand is sound. It fails because protectionism leads to abuse: by politicians as much as vested interests. The Lewinsky affair is not about sex. It concerns political corruption.

Of course, the US economy is buoyant. Road fuel is 11p/litre. If the US complied with her anti-pollution obligations, by taxing fuel at EU average levels, the cost of everything in the USA would rise, as it did in 1970, when OPEC increased oil from $4/barrel to $32.

It is not the economics which are at fault. It is national governments, multi-national cartels, socialist power abusers and international crime syndicates. Big businesses pitch their prices to what farmers can afford. The more subsidies we get the higher the price we pay for inputs. Why else are sprays made in the UK more expensive than in other EU countries? Why do similar models of European-built combines cost £98,000 in north America and £144,000 here?

However, David is correct to say that the government is prepared to destroy 40 years of efficient farming to find money to support the bottomless pits of NHS, education and social welfare. They need instead good sound economic overheads. People at the sharp end should get their just rewards at the expense of the inefficient.

Unfortunately, throwing money at problems is easier. If it can be taken from those who cannot protest, even at a high future cost, so much the better.

Ill lay a £ sterling to seven French francs, that far less efficient French farmers will not suffer in the same way.

George Scales

Cobblers Pieces, Abbess Roding, Ongar, Essex.

Co-ops needed to market grain

Tim Isaac was right (Arable, Oct 9), grain marketing will become increasingly important to the viability of farming businesses. But he spoilt a good start by taking a dim view of co-operative pool marketing.

As a farmer, who according to Mr Isaac would have parcels of grain too small to be of interest to grain merchants, I feel a response to his observations is necessary.

Through choosing a co-operative pool, I am satisfied that my marketing is being performed both professionally and in the best interests of myself and other members of the group.

I do not believe, as Mr Isaac suggested, that strategy management is guesswork. Neither do I need advice about selling budgets which may conflict with achievable targets.

My co-operative, which is non-profit making, provides its services at cost. Those are far more than just effective marketing since they include provision of excellent logistics and transport management. That is a big help and a cost saving in respect of collections from my farm. It also includes making available lower cost funding than most can expect as individuals and the security of first class cash management. And credit control ensures that we are always paid on time.

Good returns depend also on such factors as low rejection rates, fewer allowances and collective added value through sharing the benefits of blending not giving them away to the merchant. Perhaps just as important is the impartiality of our own co-operative which will always try to give advice that is right for each member instead of pursuing an alternative agenda.

Finally, by marketing my grain through a co-operative I know that I am in direct contact with the markets that matter. UK co-ops market about 25% of the nations crop – perhaps Mr Isaac has heard of us?

R D Margesson

Budercrop Farm House, Swindon, Wilts.

Reduced tillage caution advised

ADAS mechanisation adviser John Bailey (Machinery, Sept 25) rightly emphasises the opportunities to save time and costs in autumn tillage. In the same edition, Steve Townsend extols the advantages of minimum tillage in his letter "Confused about seed-beds".

But neither contribution emphasises the vital importance of soil conditions, field drainage and weed pressure in determining cultivation choice. Where none of these factors is a problem, reduced tillage may be ideal. But where one or more adverse factors is present, it can lose more than it gains. The right approach is to examine soils in all fields in late spring, when the land is moist and its structure most easily recorded.

That information, coupled with the next crop and knowledge of grass weed populations in the previous crop, leads directly to a priority list of fields requiring more tillage after harvest and those requiring cultivation only for seed-bed preparation.

The identification of cultivation need for each field, rather than a blanket approach for the whole farm, is the most effective way of saving costs while concentrating effort on fields where the need is greatest.

We go to great efforts to ensure that pesticide choice is based on individual field assessment, so why not the same for soil management?

At a time of low output prices, a flexible approach to soil management, based on the needs of each field, is how to avoid a needlessly expensive cultivations strategy.

Bryan Davies

Soils adviser, Old Galewood, Great Shelford, Cambridge.

Brent geese are farmers friends

I would like to agree with John Threadgolds view that brent geese can increase yields (News, Oct 9). The most heavily hit fields of winter wheat on our farm at the base of the Wash often produce the highest yield. I have a licence to shoot 10 brent a year but rarely need to use it as other deterrents work well.

When they descend onto the farm there can be up to 3,000 geese on one field.

As a farmer who is persecuted by these birds, I disagree with the NFUs stance of trying to get the brent goose off the protected bird list.

But if it could help remove from the protected list those who burn cars, steal and vandalise, I would again consider the NFU a powerful voice in agriculture.

J Kerkham

The Rhoon, Terrington St Clement, Kings Lynn, Norfolk.

Ramblers offer extra income

It is becoming apparent that the Ramblers Association does not wish to take the scenic route. Rather than walking up some bleak fellside for a fantastic view of unspoilt landscape they veer towards residential property, the closer to the windows of a strangers home the better.

From experience of living within inches of the Pennine Way I know that the feeling of living in scenic locations fades when the rain comes through the roof and the damp rises up the walls of the cottage.

The family who took over our place found the solution, they opened the window and sold tea and cake through it. The Pennine Way, ancient and renowned immovable public right of way, was promptly relocated at the request of the Ramblers Association.

When quaint intrusion becomes commercial exploitation they no longer wish to walk that way and will grudgingly climb steep hills and plod through muddy cow fields to avoid it.

Country sports they are not. Ramblers are more profitable than sheep but not for very long.

Sue Doughty

7 Malvern Close, Woodley, Berks.

Cash buyer has more power

I refer to the letter (Sept 4) from J Hepper Smith headed "Held to ransom by credit firms". I am sure many farmers, particularly the larger users of machinery and finance, would agree with the writers comments.

While there are many excellent manufacturer schemes with genuine offers, there are opportunities for the cash purchaser to negotiate a separate, and significantly lower price for machinery.

Readers may be interested to know that NFU Mutual Finance Ltd are about to launch a new account, run in conjunction with the NFU Mutual and the NFU, called Vision aimed at bigger farmers. The account will significantly improve farmers control over business transactions, maintain confidentiality and increase bargaining power – just what they are looking for right now.

D S Campbell

Director, NFU Mutual Finance.

Being kind to sows is obvious

Why do I find myself irritated to read of Miss Grant of Aberdeen Universitys research work (Livestock, Sept 25) into being friendly towards gilts before farrowing?

First, after 26 years managing a breeding herd, the practice of being kind to sows and especially gilts before and during farrowing has been the obvious procedure as any competent stockperson knows. So was this research necessary?

Second, would the sponsor of such research consider a more productive way of funding bearing in mind the near death of the pig industry? For example, how can farmers get their fair share of the huge retail margin?

In addition, would Mr Sainsbury consider diverting the substantial monies he gives to the arts back into the pockets of pig farmers who have unintentionally contributed towards his wealth?

Linda Proudfoot

Briar House Farm, Dewlands Hill, Rotherfield, East Sussex.

Publicise our rural plight

I recently made one of my regular visits to the local osteopath to have my back and neck returned to where my biology teacher said they should be. On this occasion, I was attended by a nice young man, new to the area and the practice. Having a high proportion of farmers in his waiting room, he was keen to learn of rural ways and what made many of his patients so tense.

As we chatted I commented that our regional newspaper the Western Morning News was always supportive of declining rural industries such as farming, fishing and mining. He said that until he came to work in a rural area he had no comprehension of the countrymans plight. What are the farmers whingeing about – the price of food in the shops isnt any cheaper so why are farmers doing so badly? Whats all this about food assurance and choice? Luckily for the young man, these were his previous thoughts on farming. And he is quickly becoming educated about farmings problems.

There is an obvious lesson to learn which until recently I, and I suspect most of the farming population, have never realised. Instead of preaching to the converted, farmers and other countrymen should write to the national Press to enlighten urban people about the practicalities of making a living from this green and pleasant land.

So I appeal to all you weary folk: Take the time one evening to put pen to paper once more to address the nation, care of Fleet Street. Lets create a modern proverb: In the spring they walked and in the autumn they talked.

Miss J V Tom

The Lower Yard, Lowere Trewiggett, St Teath, Bodmin, Cornwall.

Hold ballot on farm assurance

I write in reply to the letter from A Pexton (Oct 16). Over the months, and possibly years, we have seen many letters about farm assurance with most appearing to be against.

We know that the NFU is in favour, as are the supermarkets. How ironic when we remember that the NFU has published a 10-month review of itself, with one of the recommendations being that it should become more democratic. Why doesnt the NFU poll all farmers; as it claims to present the whole of British agriculture?

If farmers dont want farm assurance, the NFU should fight against it on behalf of its membership.

How many producers have not signed upto the scheme or would rather not join farm assurance? Where has farm assurance got pig producers?

They were the first to go farm assured, sell on the dead weight and not in the livestock market. But still the All Average Pig Price is livestock market-based. And where did buyers go when the price was lower? Abroad.

&#42 John Powell

Panty-y-Beili Farm, Bwlch, Brecon, Powys.

The facts on Irish tractors

I write regarding your article "Its still big and buoyant" (Machinery, Oct 9) on the position of the top seven tractor makes in the Irish market.

According to Central Statistics Office, the government figures are as follows: Massey Ferguson, Zetor and New Holland are in the first three positions in that order, and they do not vie almost equally for a 65% share. John Deere is fourth, Case is fifth, Landini sixth and Ursus seventh. This is almost identical to the position held in 1996 and 1997.

We are agents for Ursus and Landini and are one of the top three importers of tractors to the Irish market.

Michael Devane

Managing director, D&S Machinery Ltd, Unit F2, Ballymount Drive, Walkinstown, Dublin, Eire.

Beautiful read on countryside

The article "Will history repeat itself?" (Features, Oct 9) was very interesting. Jack Caley refers to the 18th century. An excellent read on farming history is the Brensham Trilogy set in the Tewkesbury, Glos, area.

The depression in farming which John Moore portrays could have been written this very day.

His writing is beautifully descriptive of the real countryside and if your readers have not read his books search out a copy. It was featured once on Radio 4.

Philip Saunders

Higher Colmer, Modbury, Ivybridge, Devon.

Ballerina checks rhizomania

I refer to the article about rhizomania in sugar beet (Arable, Sept.25) which inferred a breakdown in the performance of the variety Ballerina.

It has not been claimed that this variety is totally resistant to rhizomania nor that it is the complete answer to a disease.

The facts are that in 1998 Ballerina is only permitted by MAFF Plant Health Division to be grown on the 76 farms where rhizomania has been previously confirmed; therefore the chance of finding the disease on these farms is reasonable high. However, by growing this variety the rate of multiplication of the virus is far less than if a susceptible variety was grown.

Moreover, the yield of Ballerina in the absence of the disease is relatively good, exceeding that of Aztec, Saxon, Zulu and Maddison in the 1997 National Institute of Agricultural Botany trials. In the presence of rhizomania, depending on the severity of infection, although yield is affected, the level of loss is less than compared with a susceptible variety.

With a high-priority research input, it is predicted that ultimately all sugar beet varieties will be rhizomania-resistant. Meanwhile, for growers on infected farms who wish to continue beet growing, the use of Ballerina will help in reducing the multiplication.

R.M.J. Coy

English Sugar Beet Seed Co., Green Lane, Threekingham, Sleaford, Lincs.

Releasing brake on lean growth

I read with interest John Gadds letter (July 27) about the disappointing results with phase feeding at Easton Lodge. John is correct in pointing out that we need to understand better the immune status of pigs and feed them accordingly.

We have looked at this in some detail. Recently we moved some 30kg pigs from a unit where they were housed in straw yards to our trials until at Deansgrove. We also changed their feed. Growth rate improved from about 800 to nearly 1kg a day and feed conversion rate from about 2.8 to 2.4. P2 fell from 13 to 10mm. The pigs were suddenly able to express their genetic potential for lean growth.

Too often producers buy high specification feed and breeding stock without realising that they are wasting money.

Little do they realise there is a brake elsewhere in the system. As John suggests, a test feed is useful to check on the performance potential of pigs on the farm in question.

We call it the OPTIMA Lean League, and used in conjunction with growth models this helps us identify and then release the brakes on lean growth and profitable pig production.

Mick Hazzledine

Technical and marketing director, Dalgety Feed Limited, Springfield House, Springfield Business Park, Springfield Road, Grantham, Lincs.

Cholinesterase is real concern

Following your report "Risks that arent worth taking" (Features, Jun 12), I wonder whether any readers have asked their doctor for a blood test to ascertain their cholinesterase level. I waited seven weeks for a report and made several inquiries concerning the delay, only to be told, those carrying out the tests must have authorisation before releasing the result. It was eventually given as 0.30g/l. The normal range is 0.15-0.35. Authorisation from who I wonder, and why? What confidence can one have after that?

We do not use sheep dip, but have for many years used products containing organophosphorus insecticide to disinfect our grain store and silos. If they are designed to attack the central nervous system of insects, it is reasonable to assume they will ultimately damage our own.

D L Fulford

Culand Farm, Burham, Rochester, Kent.

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