6 November 1998


Dont hold yourself to blame…

Regarding recent articles on rural stress (Opinion and News, Oct 16), always remember you are not alone. But it may feel like it. We are all passengers on the Titanic. Every farmer has had his turnover probably cut by 25% since 1996 and his income reduced to near nil. So much for budgets. Dont let the bank manager bully you into time wasting and depressing additional paperwork.

Never forget that it is not your fault; you cant buck the market.

That means hill farmers, at this time of year, must sell suckled calves and lambs whatever the market trade. Blame MAFF, the UK government, the green £, supermarkets, export bans or the weather, but remember its not your fault.

The multitude of personal and farm problems will melt like snow in spring when farming and the rural community start moving again, as they surely will. In the meantime, why are we being made to feel like criminals? Couldnt, and shouldnt, MAFF lay off a bit?

Dont forget the Samaritans who are trained in rural stress matters. The NFU and others operate rural helplines in every area. They are all there to listen, to talk and to help. Dont forget your neighbour – probably the best and most understanding listening ear. Forget the past and think of the present.

John Armitage

Lower Brown Farm, Huischchamp Flower, Taunton, Somerset.

Help for those in distress

Congratulations on your leading article (Opinion, Oct 16) concerning farmer suicides and the excellent article "Spotting the danger signals" (News, Oct 16).

The message for the farming community to break down the taboo not to discuss its many problems is one that is thoroughly endorsed by the Rural Stress Information Network. We work in partnership with other organisations like the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institute and the Samaritans to reduce rural stress and suicide rates.

Farmers and other rural occupations like veterinarians and forestry workers have high suicide rates. RSIN, RABI and the Samaritans are all available to help people overcome their problems. Farmers must take that vital first step and contact these organisations if they are feeling distressed.

The economic problems affecting agriculture are bringing more pressure and stress on rural communities. RSIN is concerned that people should be aware that there are organisations in place to help those in distress. RSINs telephone number is 01203-412916 or e-mail:

Kevin Evans

Deputy director, Rural Stress Information Network, Arthur Rank Centre, Stoneleigh Park, Warwicks.

Free for all is not fair market

Nick Brown and Lord Sewel both advocate the free market system for British agriculture. That is to free the market from controls and subsidies and let prices and values find their own level.

A free market will not solve all the problems for either farmers or consumers. Farmers are in the worst income crisis since the 1930s and the government hasnt begun to accept that. Its civil servants are happy to fend off attacks on ministers and are prepared to see the agricultural industry run down.

They tell us that large amounts of subsides are being paid to farmers but farmers are not getting this money. It is going into the pockets of the banks and supermarkets. Just look at their profits and explain how that benefits consumers.

The Prime Minister said recently at Question Time that he wanted a "reform of agriculture in the interests of consumers." The best way to protect consumers interests is to support policies for British agriculture that are in the national interest. That means recognising systems of production and the constraints of the climate and geography.

A free market has to be fair. A free for all is not a fair market. Consumers also need protection against near monopolies where a small number of buyers operate against a large number of sellers.

Reform should come through Westminster or Brussels or both. Restructuring is necessary, but that doesnt mean damaging rural improvements which farmers have built up over the past 200 years only for them to be ruined by a government which cant see beyond the lifetime of this parliament.

Giles Wynne

Glenshamrock Farm, Auchinleck, Ayrshire.

Dont blame the supermarkets

I am sure most farmers appreciate your coverage of the way supermarket retailers are perceived to be unduly unsupportive of UK meat producers, at a time of massive over-production beyond the requirements of the domestic market.

Although supermarkets have undoubted market strength, they employ vast numbers of people and provide a high level of service which is popular with their customers. They also have to compete efficiently with each other to produce profits and dividends for shareholders.

Many farmers are shareholders either directly or indirectly through pension funds which are major shareholders in the principle retailers.

Most farmers, including myself, have been content to purchase foreign manufactured tractors, farm machinery, cars and imported fertilisers and agrochemicals for decades. We always drive the hardest bargain when buying inputs. So when the tables are turned, is it fair to criticise supermarkets for sourcing some of their supplies from Europe and further afield?

The farming industry is heavily subsidised to the tune of £4bn/ year. Although farmers would prefer that subsidies were not necessary, they are favourably supported compared with many industries.

If farmers want to avoid the effects of over-production, they should form themselves into a few large buying and selling co-ops producing for market needs. That would provide some real market strength and influence prices.

Also, we should remember that some farmers have done well from the expansion of supermarkets to out-of-town sites by selling a few acres of farmland.

Not all farmers have enjoyed that benefit. But all of us can enjoy a share of supermarket profits by purchasing more shares in those companies.

J L Wright

Riverview, Toad Road, Henstead, Beccles.

No answer to supermarkets

I read with interest the letter (Oct 2) from Tracey Fountain about her experience in Sainsburys. Beware of labels.

A friend who queried the origin of bacon labelled as British in a supermarket was told it was foreign but as it had been cut and packaged in the UK, it could be legally described as British. It may be legal, but it is morally indefensible to deliberately mislead; particularly given the current farming crisis.

My wife seldom buys meat from supermarkets. Despite their claims, we have found that it is cheaper and of equal or better quality and flavour from local butchers, and it is genuinely British. Also one is always treated with respect as a valued customer.

I believe that the public are lazy and brainwashed. The one-stop shopping idyll offered by supermarkets is too tempting, and they believe they are getting value for money. The big four stores are selling to about 65% of the population but wait until it gets to 95%, the target they are aiming for. Then, with virtually all other competition wiped out, we shall see what power they have and what prices we shall have to pay.

I urge farmers to adopt the motto of Bill Gates of Microsoft: If you cant join them, beat them. Your strength is in unity, not with the supermarkets, with yourselves. I thought the answer would be to open a chain of farmer-owned co-op supermarkets to sell all the usual commodities, buying British produce where applicable. But if successful that enterprise would hit local shops and family businesses just as hard. Now, I dont know what the answer is. I can only carry on giving you my support.

Michael Gurton

Russets, Colchester Road, Wakes Colne, Colchester, Essex.

How to get the message across

Farmers should explain their worries about poor prices and supermarket profiteering to the public by writing to national newspapers not the farming Press. Too many are preaching to the converted. In order to get your letters printed, keep them to fewer than 200 words – 100 preferably.

Points should be valid, succinct and highlight the differences between supermarket prices and farm prices in terms that the public understand. For many people that is pence per pound not per kilo.

Liveweight prices are irrelevant. People need to compare like with like; so quote carcass prices. And dont forget Londons Evening Standard. How many farmers write to this publication? But its read by thousands – including Westminsters politicians.

Farmers could also get their message across by writing their grievances on black silage bags and placing them in fields alongside busy roads, especially motorways. Fields near supermarkets are especially valuable. If you dont have silage, it will cost only a few pounds to wrap straw bales. Make sure they are high enough to be seen. White spray paint available in cans from garages is the easiest way to apply the message. I suggest the logo: "Supermarkets = Superprofits".

L J Jenkins

Clyn-yr-ynys, Gwbert, Cardigan, Ceredigion.

Set-aside for pigs is needed

The European over-supply of pigs is our major problem. Our main buyers, the supermarkets, will not pay more money for pigs than they need. To them that is good business.

Also no farmer pays more for his inputs than he needs to. The answer is to take pigs out of the market. We should have a compulsory, uncompensated set-aside for pigs. All European pigs are slaughtered at approved abattoirs. If 10% of all pigs delivered are incinerated, market supply would fall and prices would rise by more than 10%.

Pat White

Field House Farm, Balderton, Newark, Notts.

Labour and the supermarkets

How can we, beleaguered UK sheep farmers, expect fair play from the Labour government? Has it not accepted multi-million £ donations, both before and after the last election, from the likes of Lord Sainsbury and other supermarket giants?

L B G Harrison

Windrush Hill Farm, Mount Pleasant, Guiting Power, Cheltenham.

Co-ops deliver maximum value

I read with interest the article on grain marketing (Arable, Oct 9) contributed by Mr Issacs of Strutt and Parker.

Mr Issacs neglected to mention the benefits that co-operative marketing offers to producers of all sizes. Farmer owned co-ops collectively market about 25% of the nations crops, and offer a number of benefits. Those include: sampling and quality analysis; professional and timely marketing (including hedging); pool marketing options; facilities and opportunities to blend crops to meet buyer specifications; transport management; low-cost funding; the security of cash management and credit control ensuring timely payment.

All that is delivered at minimum cost to producer members. There are no conflicts of interest as the sole objective of the co-op is to deliver maximum value to the producers who participate in and own the co-operative.

In markets that have been falling, and which may be increasingly volatile due to the introduction of the single European currency, producers would be well advised to seek protection through co-operative marketing. Certainly, the few large multi-national buyers that now dominate the market would like to see producers continue to go it alone for obvious reasons.

Any producer wanting to contact their local co-operative should telephone the Federation of Agricultural Co-operatives/NFU Corporate on 0171-3317216.

Paul Ibbott

Federation of Agricultural Co-operatives/NFU Corporate, Agriculture House, 164 Shaftesbury Avenue, London.

Form our own dairy company

The "powers that be" tell us that generic advertising of milk will increase sales of liquid milk. That may be the case but I dont believe that it will increase milk producers prices. Why? Because the cartel – otherwise known as the Dairy Industry Federation – will not pay a reasonable price unless forced to do so by farmers processing their own milk on a large scale.

The management of liquid dairies should be amazed that farmers are considering such a daft idea as to pay to advertise their products. But lets not forget that we once paid them to shut their factories and look how much good that did us.

The only way farmers can look forward to a future above subsistence level is to be the dairy company. We should rise from the bottom of the food chain like our competitors.

Andy Clarke

Seamark Farm, Haighton Green Lane, Haighton, Preston, Lancs.

Why the hurry with GM crops?

Junior farm minister Jeff Rooker is quoted (News, Oct 2) as rejecting calls for a moratorium on genetically modified crops. "For a moratorium to be implemented, we need strong health, scientific and safety grounds. We have none of these," he is reported as saying.

The whole purpose of a moratorium is to explore the long-term possibilities of introducing into the environment organisms which could not occur in nature. That seems a common sense measure before we embark on such a risky undertaking. Whats the hurry? We are not short of food – far from it. And once we accept genetically modified seeds our farmers will be in thrall of the manufacturers. They will not be able to save their own seeds and will have to buy afresh every year. Once these organisms are released they will be with us forever.

J Bower

Hon Secretary, The Farm and Food Society, 4 Willifield Way, London.

Ill swap with Mr Harden

I refer to your article "BVA message to hills" (News, Oct 2). David Harden has little or no understanding of farming in hill and upland areas and has even less understanding or regard for the communities which are sustained by hill farmers.

As a landowner with 5000 acres already in his possession, one cannot help but suspect his determination to see a pension scheme introduced to enable small-scale farmers to leave the industry. Is it designed to enable large landowners, such as himself, to gobble up the smaller holdings to the detriment of the countryside and the wider rural community?

While I acknowledge that upland farmers and their livestock are integral to the management and upkeep of the hills, I cannot believe he thinks that this is their only role. Some of the finest store stock, both cattle and sheep, reared in these areas are finished further down the hill. Mr Harden seems to have lost sight of the fact that consumers are increasingly seeking extensively reared quality livestock, raised to high welfare standards such as may be sourced from these areas.

About 80% of Wales is designated "less favoured", and farmers in these areas have to contend with permanent handicaps in their day-to-day farming practices. Mr Harden implies that small hill farmers, such as myself, are inefficient. But in my experience, to derive a livelihood from a small hill farm one has to be very efficient.

Finally, Mr Harden refers to the "very, very handsome return" that the hill subsidy system produces. Hill farm incomes in Wales have fallen by 54% over the past two years and that deterioration looks set to continue. Perhaps Mr Harden would like to live off a net farm income of £8,500 which was the average return to the LFA farmer and his spouse in Wales in 1997/98? From that sum we have to make interest repayments and on-farm investment. I am ready to swap places Mr Harden since you cannot understand what small hill farmers do all week.

Derek Morgan

Chairman, FUW Hill Farming and Marginal Land Committee, Llys Amaeth, Queens Square, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion.

Local links for sustainability

Your correspondent Mr Scales (Letters, Oct 9) claims that all agriculture is unsustainable as it destroys the balance of nature.

While sustainability as a concept is open to various interpretations, many would see the 1987 Bruntland Commissions definition as a good starting point: "…meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

Those of us who try to farm sustainably would include the need to make a profit, meet the communitys need for food, and to maintain equity within environmental limits.

Its appropriate that your front cover shows a farmer who, in these difficult times, is succeeding by selling milk locally and linking directly with consumers. That is a strategy which organic and other sustainable farmers will recognise, and which dramatically reduces the environmental cost of transporting food.

Andrew Mellen

Single body to market milk

Your report on the shrinking market for milk (Business, Oct 16) emphasises the need for a single organisation to promote UK milk sales.

We need to create a UK Dairy Board by merging several of the plethora of industry bodies, such as the Residuary Milk Marketing Board, NDC and MDC, that have grown up since de-regulation.

The purpose of the Dairy Board would be to fund milk marketing as well as research and development. Funding could be provided by the current MDC levy along with the funds held by the RMMB. There would be no need for any further levy until those funds are used up.

If we do not market our product aggressively, prices will continue to fall and the dairy industry will be locked into permanent decline.

Rob Bevin

53 Montalt Road, Cheylesmore, Coventry.

Dont hit out at nurses over pay

Traditionally, nurses and farmers seem to have got on well together. Many nurses are the daughters or wives of farmers.

Arguably the principles of our respective contributions to society have some fundamental similarities in that both groups cater for and contribute to societys needs and work hard 365 days a year. In winter in rural mid-Wales after heavy snowfalls, some of our community nurses, midwives and health visitors have relied on farmers to either dig them out or to clear a track for them to visit patients.

Therefore, to hear on BBC Radio Wales Breakfast Programme on Mon Sept 21 a dissatisfied Welsh farmer saying that nurses are not badly paid in comparison to farmers is inappropriate and unhelpful. There are fundamental differences in the debates around remuneration of nurses in the UK and the plight of farmers.

If nurses and farmers are to play one against the other, it will help neither cause.

I am sure there are many members of the Royal College of Nursing who are sympathetic to farmers problems.

In the interests of working together, I hope farmers will have a successful campaign without compromising ours.

Liz Hewett

Board secretary, Royal College of Nursing, Welsh Board, Ty Maeth, King George V Drive East, Cardiff.

Badger cull is a smokescreen

Given the confusion surrounding the current debate over the Krebs/Bourne scientific badger cull in relation to controlling bovine TB in cattle, its worth pointing out that badger culls have nearly ended.

Badger culls will involve less than 1% of the country and about 1000 cattle herds out of 130,000. Despite the emotive debate over the new cull, it should be seen as a political smokescreen of spectacular irrelevance. Lack of financial and manpower resources mean that phasing in triplet sample squares and the cull/no cull strategies, coupled with farmer and conservation non-co-operation, will render results in five years time incomprehensible or inconclusive.

It is a phased path to a total end to culls as predicted by the then shadow farm agriculture spokesman Elliot Morley three years ago.

Meanwhile, cattle TB is up 45% on last year and the real answers are already in place albeit in embryonic form. That is trialling of better blood or DNA cattle tests, video-auctioning, avoiding stress and exposure to disease at auction marts.

And the Workington computerised cattle passport scheme does not incorporate TB test history yet. MAFF now admits, after 27 years, it doesnt know if, how, or to what extent badgers might give cattle a respiratory lung infection.

Sadly, a new five year "scientific" badger cull, which will cost an estimated £27m, is deemed politically necessary to re-discover the results of the Dunnet review conducted 12 years ago. Badger culls are a waste of money and irrelevant to bovine TB which has been a bovine problem all along.

M Hancox

17 Nounells Cross, Stroud, Glos.

Twin with a Zambian farm

I am looking for a British farmer who is interested in twinning his or her farm with my farm in Zambia. It must be someone, or a group or company which is interested in learning about farming activities in Zambia.

I would also like to learn about new and profitable methods of farming in Britain today. I am a retired civil servant and have just gone into farming; hence my wish to learn about British methods of agriculture.

J M Chilolo

Box 510978, Chipata, Zambia, Central Africa.

Balance energy sources in feed

Further to your article "Do your feed sums now" (Livestock, Oct 23) I would like to clarify several points.

The article states that many silages are high in fibre and low in energy and farmers should avoid supplementary feeds such as maize gluten, palm kernel, sugar beet pulp, grass nuts, rice bran and cocoa shells.

The digestion of high fibre silages is the same as any other silage and is dependent on the correct bugs being present in the rumen. Digestible fibre sources, such as molassed sugar beet feed, actually promote fibre digesting bugs in the rumen so improving silage digestion, lifting intakes and ultimately increasing milk production.

While there is a need for energy sources such as starch and sugars within the ration to aid the fibre digestion process, over-reliance on these energy sources can potentially cause acidosis, reduced production and even lameness.

Your article, "Silage rationing needed to counter fermentation" points out there may be a particular problem this year with low pH silages causing digestive upsets. Feeding large amounts of concentrates which dont contain sufficient digestible fibre will only exacerbate the problem of acidosis and its consequences.

There is also mention that high fibre rations will promote high milk butterfat. Although this is certainly true, there are other ingredients that can be included in the ration to counteract this. For instance, ingredients such as distillers grains and fish oils can significantly lower milk fat content without adversely affecting liquid yield or protein content.

Livestock farmers need to remember that there is no blueprint for a winter feeding regime.

While there are many value-for-money feed ingredients available, the key to success lies in offering a ration that contains the correct balance of energy sources. Farmers need to think objectively before they buy, and always plan a ration which best complements the silage in their own clamps, and not that of their neighbours.

Matt Witt

Nutritionist, Trident Feeds, Oundle Road, Peterborough.

Good to raise a smile at present

On calling at a farm this week, in my role as a sales representative, the farmer told me there was a new breed of cow.

It was a cross between a cow and a kangaroo; its ears were large enough to take all the new tags and it had a pouch to hold all its own documentation.

In these difficult times, its good to see a farmer raising a smile.

Howard Marsden

Woodland House, Cwmavon, Pontypool, Gwent.

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