19 June 1998


Assurance – but whats it worth?

I would hate to be labelled a pessimist, but are we to assume that supermarkets are not interested in quality assurance? Following the virtual collapse of the Malton Foods bacon contract which was (and maybe still is) dependent on the Malton Code, how long before ACCS becomes a victim of cheap imports?

Quality assurance and welfare appear to count for nothing when produce is a few pence cheaper from abroad.

The vast majority of farmers will back an assurance scheme, but only if it is worth something at the end of the day. So come on supermarket buyers, show us that assurance schemes are worth at least the tonnes of paper they are written on.

We may be the first country with such schemes for all produce, but all that is worthless if you do not show a preference for welfare-friendly or assured produce.

W F Bradley

Horsewold Farm, Middleton-on-the-Wolds, Driffield, East Yorkshire.

Bad manners and greed

I read your report of the cancellation of the use of the AAPP, plus severe curtailment of contract bought pigs by a major slaughterer and processor with concern (Business, June 5).

The major reason given was that the retail and catering trade are not willing to pay more for British pigmeat.

They are prepared to source the product from other EU states at a lower cost even though it does not conform to the welfare codes demanded of UK producers.

What is happening at the moment is bad manners, lacks class, and is immoral.

I have nothing but contempt for these people, they have no status and no authority.

Greed and abusive use of wealth are never given favour in history.

I am not perfect. I can though, hold my head up high and state that when a sow has a difficult farrowing I dont go to bed until satisfied that she and piglets are OK.

All animals are checked many times during the day and always before going to bed.

It would be nice if retailers, caterers and the rest of society just occasionally said "thank you" for working so damned hard for little reward. UK pig farmers are unsubsidised and always trying to improve the welfare of their pig, but there is a cost.

I do get worked up by hypocrites who talk in a high moral tone about improving animal welfare. Then these people are quite happy, like Pontius Pilate, to wash their hands, and leave a whole industry to be crucified.

David Turton

Oast House, Egypt Farm, Rushlake Green, Heathfield, East Sussex.

Stop poking at the pig farmer

I am disgusted by the way the meat trade is treating pig farmers. Hardly a week goes by without a processor introducing a charge or abusing us. Do slaughterhouses and supermarkets think we are going to put up with the sort of treatment they are giving us?

I would urge all pig farmers to refuse to sign any contract for the coming year. Tell your marketing group that you wish to see your pigs being marketed properly and move around to the highest bidder in the week. We dont need to be insulted as well as receiving hopelessly uneconomic prices.

It is time we showed them who is doing who a favour.

We should remove the supply or cut back production so severely that the trade squeaks for a change.

How about depriving one slaughterhouse each week of pigs? With wages to pay and lorries to tax they would pay any price to get pigs.

Why not insist your marketing group manager talks to all the other group managers with the intention of actually marketing pigs rather than just taking orders and grabbing a few pence a pig? Remind them that marketing means manipulating the market just as slaughterhouses and supermarkets are doing.

I have been keeping pigs for the past 35 years.

Now we all have to be brave and make ruthless decisions or none of us will remain in business.

Come on NFU and BPA, how about some leadership from you ? Dont sit on the political fence otherwise you wont have any pig farmer members left.

David Proudfoot

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

Anti-assurance lobby was right

The recent attack by the supermarkets on the Malton Bacon Factory and its farming suppliers demonstrates that we, who have continually campaigned against farm assurance schemes, have been proved correct.

These schemes effectively commit farmers into an insidious form of slavery by destroying their economic bargaining power.

Supermarkets insist on impossibly high and expensive production standards from their regular suppliers, but when the free market price falls below contract prices, they renege on previous agreements and buy their goods from the cheapest source. Then, with breathtaking hypocrisy, they disregard farm assurance and traceability.

It is a kind of corporate fascism whose jackboots are trampling small farming businesses into the dust.

Surely the NFU, under the excellent leadership of Mr Gill, will now awaken from its slumbers and resume its proper role, that of defending its members against the bullying and boorish behaviour of the supermarkets?

It should no longer continue to recommend that farmers enter assurance schemes, which will inevitably destroy freedom and free enterprise in our beloved agricultural industry.

J R Lindley

Birkwood Farm, Altofts, Normanton, West Yorks.

Keep input tax at bay as well

We have read a lot of letters complaining about the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme. I hope that all these people put as much effort into opposing the new proposed "input tax" on fertilisers and pesticides we keep reading about because the cost of that, if it went ahead, would make the costs of the ACCS seem insignificant. The ACCS is based mainly on what we should be doing already. I think it is a practical way forward in the present climate of food scares etc.

Roger R Oates

Grange Farm, Thorney, Newark, Notts.

Mr Richardson does a U-turn

It seems as though David Richardson has learnt a lot in a week. In the May 29 edition of FARMERS WEEKLY he emphasised the value of the combinable crops assurance scheme to UK farmers.

Last week (June 6) he tells us to do everything to keep costs down because the US control the cereal world where the driving force is price.

Perhaps he changed his mind because of the news that the Malton Bacon factory has changed its pig buying policy (Business, June 5). Malton Bacon has seen farmers spend a fortune on its pig assurance scheme.

Now it is telling farmers, who have followed the company every inch of the way, that it no longer wants their pigs because imports of non-assured pigs are cheaper.

Or has Mr Richardson just heard that a major grain exporter of wheat from Canada has done a five-year deal to supply the firm that is arguably the biggest bread baker in the UK with wheat. Wheat that often over-winters outside, gets contaminated with mud and deer-droppings and is certainly not assured to UK standards.

Or has he just heard the rest of the farming world laughing as people like him encourage UK farmers to put our heads in any noose deemed fashionable by the establishment, the trade or the supermarkets?

Peter Hepworth

Kirkburn Manor, Driffield.

Missing point of MBM in feed

Richard Cracknell and Paul Cheale (Letters, Jun 5) seem to have missed the point of criticisms levelled against Mr Cracknells call for MBM to be used again in animal feed.

Allowing its use in order that we may become more competitive is not important when 60m British consumers link MBM with mad cow disease. Instead of moaning that the rest of the world is still using MBM to feed its livestock which puts our meat at a disadvantage, we should use the fact that we dont, to give our products a competitive edge over imports.

Supermarkets are happy to import pig and poultry meat fed on MBM and sell it without reaction from consumers and the media. There is no reaction because they believe we were the only farmers in the world to use dead animals to feed other animals.

Moreover, farm assurance is being used by supermarkets to attach a welfare, traceability and environmentally friendly label to imports. Your farm assured produce (with the exception of Freedom Foods) is put on the shelf unlabelled next to the imported or the non assured produce. The poor old consumer is confused and thinks it is all assured and who can blame him?

You may have jumped through hoops, filled in forms and paid money to join schemes so cheaper imports can, by association with yours, be assured. And thats all because of our failure to ask for recognition for our efforts with a logo on the final product.

I support farm assurance but not as a marketing tool to be used by others for them to profit at our expense. We farmers must stop allowing the supermarkets to do our public relations work for us. We should do our own direct to the consumer, consumer organisations and the media. Only by talking to our customers customers can we know why and what they want and not what our customers say they want for their marketing advantage. That is why we cannot have MBM in animal feed: Our customers customers do not want it.

Michael Hart

Spokesperson Farmers for Action, Lanuah Farm, St Ewe, St Austell, Cornwall.

Say No to view of wholesalers

I could not believe that the Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers president is urging the lifting of the present ban on the inclusion of meat and bonemeal in livestock feed (Opinion, May 22).

When I reported this to the National Federation of Meat and Food Traders agm, the retail butchers present, who represent the largest section of our membership, could not believe such a suggestion had been made.

We have all suffered enough from the loss of public confidence in recent years which has only been restored with massive effort. Having achieved that, nothing must be done to prejudice it again.

They all agreed that the rest of the industry must give a resounding NO to the FFMW.

J Laird

President, The National Federation of Meat & Food Traders, 1 Belgrove, Tunbridge Wells, Kent.

Lets take on large retailers

Large food retailers are strong buyers and farmers are weak sellers. But we should not blame them for our bad fortune. After all, they are competing with each other and will go as far as possible to cut the cost of their inputs. Surely most of us do the same thing when shopping around for seed and fertiliser?

We should stop bleating and tackle them head on.

The courageous beef producers of Wales, have shown that getting together and taking action can create some ripples. They organised themselves with little or no support from the paper tiger that is our union.

Imagine the fruit growers of Kent; the wheat growers of East Anglia and the livestock producers of the West Country thinking with one brain. The commodity supply to the market could be controlled, or even denied, which would put the producers firmly back in the driving seat.

The means to organise in such a way is now here. It is, of course, the internet.

Of course, a "strike" would be broken by some individuals, but if we are serious about saving businesses then we must stick together.

The supermarkets and mills would counter by buying abroad, but Im sure this would increase their costs. And when the pound drops to the correct level we would find out what power really means.

I believe that thousands of farmers and growers connected and directed via the internet would send a shiver down the supermarket aisles.

D F Brightman

South View, Green End Farm, Little Staughton, Bedford.

Dont whinge in anonymity

As a scientist involved in research and extension I found your Talking Point (May 22) raised some interesting issues with regard to communication of research findings to the farming community.

I was disappointed that your author chose to hide his identity. If the author hasnt the courage of his convictions he should not have raised the issue.

It is a cop-out for scientists to suggest that someone else should be hired specifically to do the extension job. As scientists, we must have the on-farm contact if we are to produce practical research outputs. We must also learn to communicate the findings at the various different levels that are needed.

Only in this way can scientists understand the problems and farmers understand the value of research.

I suspect that few scientists who complain that no-one is funding the extension aspects of their work have ever actually tried to raise the extension funds. Even if funds are not available, there are ample free opportunities to present results at farmers meetings, shows and sales. Many journals would also publish a popularised version of the scientific results.

If your author feels he is wasting time and money because his results dont get to the farmers, he should do something about it and not whinge in anonymity.

Dr Robert K Bain

National Agricultural Research Project, DFID Eastern Africa, Box 30465, Nairobi, Kenya.

Chance to fizz for milk sales

This is the opportunity we have been waiting for. People up and down the county will be buying their children, or themselves, fewer fizzy drinks because of the benzene scare.

We need to make them think of milk as an 100% natural alternative.

We cant wait to see if farmers want generic advertising and how its going to be paid for. We need to do it now while the media discuss the dangers of benzene in fizzy drinks.

We can do it ourselves, it doesnt matter who you sell your milk to. Post or fax this letter to other dairy farmers and ask them to do the same. Spread the message as quickly as possible.

Get someone with a computer to produce an A4 poster with a simple message like Milk 100% natural and then get it photocopied. Stick the copies up where ever you can – telegraph poles, in built up areas, near supermarkets.

There are approximately 22,000 dairy farmers in England and Wales. If each one photocopied and stuck up 20 posters that would be 440,000 posters up and down the country.

It would cost each farmer only £2, plus some time sticking the posters up.

There is an opportunity but we need to act now not in two or three months time. Remember: Milks not fizzy, just fantastic.

Nick & Julie Granger

Darracott Farm, Kilkhampton, Bude, Cornwall.

Slash and burn does destroy

If Carlos Joly (News, May 29) cared to disclose in full, the issues surrounding the practices of slash and burn, he would have done his companys interests a disservice. The issue has been recklessly simplified, with some fundamental omissions evident.

Slash and burn does destroy forest, but these are usually forests that have already been opened up by logging companies, creating access in previously-impenetrable forest for the shifting cultivators. Soil loss by this stage is already well above the natural rate.

Mr Joly doesnt seem to realise the majority of these shifting cultivators farm mainly on a subsistence basis, and are not producing commodity grain crops for the world markets. They are desperate for land, and in many cases have been displaced by the large-scale commercial farms that produce commodity crops using monoculture.

Soil loss from these introduced agricultural systems by far exceeds soil loss from traditional mixed cropping systems. Much research output has centred on improving crops and increasing yields in these tropical climates. The need for this is great, but the research is aimed at large scale commercial flat land agriculture, which is exactly the sort of market that Monsantos products are aimed at. Those farmers that are most at risk from starvation do not live or farm in these flatland areas. They may be found in marginal hilly and mountainous areas, where, if monculture was widely adopted, soil erosion would become catastrophic in magnitude.

One of the stated aims of Monsantos GMO endeavours is to increase food production. But it is difficult to see how poor farmers may be able to afford to buy modified seeds plus the chemical inputs needed to sustain their growth.

In Europe, yields of intensive arable crops are sustained only through the use of expensive and unsustainable inputs. If European farmers were as poor as their subsistence colleagues in the third world, they would not be able to afford the use of those inputs and yields would decline. Further, if the climate in Europe were not temperate, but tropical instead, it would become apparent very quickly that sustainable agriculture and soil use would be central to maintaining yields and productivity.

The fact is the brand of agriculture that Mr Jolys company advocates, is diametrically opposite the principles of sustainable land use. It seems odd his company can claim its agriculture presents greater environmental benefits than organic or sustainable agricultural practice.

Garret Gillespie

Silsoe College, Cranfield University, Silsoe.

Our food choice is in danger

Monsanto invites us to learn about genetic engineering through full page adverts in the Sunday papers. It is unusual for a single company to take it upon itself to educate the general public on a general issue such as this.

Perhaps thats because Monsanto knows that it will largely control what food we grow as a nation and what food is stocked in our stores, if it can win the argument for genetically-engineered food.

What is at stake is nothing less than our choice as growers and consumers as to what food we will be eating for generations to come. The flavour saver tomato (featured in papers on June 6, 1998) is a wonder of modern science.

But how does it help the British farmer to have a genetically-modified tomato that can be transported across the world from South Africa or Israel? It certainly benefits transnational companies, but not us!

Farming in Britain has gone through the mangle in the past five years. If there is one thing we have learnt, it is to listen to the consumer. They are deeply distrustful of genetic engineering and the tabloids have already associated it with BSE.

We live in unusual times. Our choices as growers and consumers will determine what food our children and grandchildren will eat. This may sound overblown but Monsanto realises how crucial the next 12 months are and have invested heavily in changing peoples minds about genetic engineering. They have everything to gain by winning this argument, and 10 years of investment to lose if it is rejected by UK consumers.

Matt Dunwell

Ragmans Lane Farm, Lower Lydbrook, Glos.

Where do I go for redress?

I farm one of the most beautiful valleys on the Cotswolds, which attracts many walkers and riders. I have two bridle/footpaths on my land. Part of the land is owned, part-tenanted. On the night of Sunday May 31/morning of June 1, I had 119 cattle let out. Two gates had been left open.

Much time, no little temper and considerable cost was put into getting the cattle back into the correct fields. Much damage was done to the land of two of my neighbours. The damage is being assessed by the NFU.

It would appear there is nobody to which I can go for redress other than my insurance company, having contacted the Public Rights of Way (Gloucestershire County Council) and the Ramblers Association.

The right to roam was one of the issues which led to the Countryside March in London. It would appear that the onus is completely on the farmer/landowner and none on the rambler or rider, whether on a horse or a mountain bike.

I would support the right to roam if there was a statutory body to which I could go for redress if damage or expense was incurred.

Alex Mason

Manor Farm, Ablington, Bibury, Cirencester.

Got it wrong on wayleaves

Your article on wayleave payments for fibre-optic cables on electricity apparatus (News, May 22) is misleading.

The agreement mentioned by Mr Harding of Upminster is between the NFU, the Country Landowners Association, the FUW and electricity industry in England and Wales – the 12 regional electricity companies and the National Grid Company.

The payment rates agreed are for commercial not in-house use as stated and are made by the operating companies in return for separate telecommunication wayleave agreements with individual grantors.

Peter Crook

National Grid, Midlands Area Office, Hams Lane, Lea Marston, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands.

Double-edged sward

I agree with Mr Charnley (Letters, May 22) that both cobalt and molybdenum contained in ashed poultry litter are beneficial to nitrogen fixation by clover. However it should be made clear that molybdenum also has a well-known antagonistic effect on copper availability in ruminants. The lock-up effect can lead to an induced copper deficiency, the symptoms of which, include coat colour changes in cattle and swayback in lambs.

Where any possibility of even sub-clinical copper deficiency exists, a recommendation to spread ashed poultry litter on grassland must be questioned.

Dr Tom Blair

PHOSYN, Manor Place, Industrial Estate, Pocklington, York.

BSbeet haulage a dead duck

I would like to tell British Sugar that its idea of running sugar beet haulage is a dead duck. As growers, we prefer to arrange our own hauliers that we know and trust. You have never been without beet in your factories through inefficient haulage so dont worry about saving us money on that score, just pay up on what you owe us in the crown sugar.

As British Sugar is a monopoly negotiating is very difficult. Perhaps we farmers could enlist the help of another big Company, maybe Allied Grain or Dalgety and boycott selling or buying all products from or to them to see if they can help British Sugar to be more helpful in the present negotiations.

Brian Abblitt

Morleys Farm, Puddock Road, Warboys, Cambs.

Many cases still unresolved

I write in reply to the letter (May 22) from Tony Black of the Ordnance Survey. Mr Black is wrong to suggest that only a small proportion of cases remain unresolved. The last report from the Scottish Office Agricultural Environment and Fisheries Dept was that as many as 43% were still unresolved.

Many farmers have had to submit their 1998 IACS applications with uncertainty about the exact official area of their fields.

About three quarters of Scottish growers have still not received the final part of their 1997 payment because of mapping problems.

Until 1996, many Scottish farmers used the same maps those in the rest of the UK still use. It is not our fault that all of Scotland was not mapped to a scale of 1:2,500.

Scottish farmers are paying the price for mistakes made by others. It is only fair that they should be paid interest on payments now five months late.

Douglas M Morrison

Cereals Convenor NFUS, Amisfield Mains, Haddington, East Lothian.

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