25 December 1998


Not all get arable aid payments

We too feel compelled to write in reply to Suffolk farming family who complained about overly generous subsidies (Letters, Nov 17).

As young tenant farmers who took on a 93ha (230 acre) Shropshire farm and were not established before the arable aid/IACS rules came into force, we missed out on arable aid payments. Although about half of our farm is sown with cereals, only 5.38ha (13.2 acres) is eligible. We do not have the luxury of the arable aid payments to supplement low cereal prices as do most arable farmers.

Neither do we receive less favoured area subsidy for the flock of ewes we keep because we are on the wrong side of the LFA boundary by a matter of yards.

Taxpayers, the media and indeed some other farmers should know that not all farmers get large amounts of subsidies.

We would like to see a fairer distribution of quotas and subsides. Perhaps there could be a cut-off point or discretionary allowances for new entrants or young farmers who wish to farm in their own right. Better still, scrap all quotas and subsidies because we receive little compared with some others. We do not have a level playing field in this country – never mind the rest of Europe.

As for claims about excessive over production in the livestock sector, havent we all been encouraged to increase productivity whether it be in the livestock or arable sectors? We all use modern medicines and sprays to increase productivity and therefore lift profitability. After all, we should be in business to make profits just like the supermarkets.

G J and V A Williams

Hopton Hall, Hopton Cangeford, Nr Ludlow, Shropshire.

Be GM-free is way to compete

FW reported recently (Arable, Dec 4) trials on genetically modified herbicide resistant crops being carried out in the US and also in NIAB trials in the UK.

The effectiveness of GM insecticide crops is collapsing so fast that American farmers are now recommended to plant up to 40% of crops in unmodified varieties. The spread of herbicide resistant transgenic oilseed rape volunteers by cross pollination on to Canadian farmland that has never grown GM varieties, is resulting in litigation.

All major UK supermarkets are adopting strategies to source GM-free ingredients and British Sugar will not accept GM sugar beet.

UK agriculture finds itself at a crossroads at the end of the century in many respects. That is particularly true in relation to genetic engineering. The chief executive of Monsanto has described the effects of genetic engineering as "unknown, and to some degree unknowable".

How wise is it to adopt a technology which involves the random insertion of foreign genetic material from viruses and bacteria into our food in return for marginal or non-existent benefits? If our objective is the destruction of consumer confidence in British agricultures ability to provide safe and wholesome food, then plunging thoughtlessly ahead may be the best option.

If, however, our objective is to "Keep Britain Farming" then the most effective way to compete against US food imports is to keep our production GM-free. GM-free is what our customers require and what our American competitors can no longer provide.

Mark Griffiths

Environment spokesman, Natural Law Party (UK), 75 Fairfield Rd, Winchester.

Biotech firms tough tactics

Your special feature on genetically engineered crops (Arable, Dec 4) was interesting, but no mention was made of the difficulties facing US farmers who have chosen GM varieties.

The companies involved in biotechnology use hard tactics to ensure the farmers loyalty. They use patent laws to own every GM plant grown from their seed. Farmers have to sign contracts which commit them to paying a technology fee, to use the companys own chemicals, and to allow the company to inspect the farm.

The latest problem is the introduction of terminator technology. This means that genetic material is introduced making it impossible for the GM plants to make their own seed. Farmers are thus no longer able to save seed from one year to the next but have to buy from the agrochemical-biotechnology giant.

Your feature seemed to imply that GM crops would be perfect if there were no customers to worry about. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves why we grow crops. Is it merely a technological process, or could it have something to do with people enjoying good food?

Marit Parker

Calypso Barn, Low Farm, Bishop Monkton, Harrogate, North Yorks.

Undermined by misleading label

All the farming industrys efforts to introduce traceability and assurances are completely undermined by the continued – and legal – use of misleading labelling.

Why should it be permissible to label imported beef as British just because it has been processed here? Why is it possible to label Spanish olive oil as Italian simply because it is bottled in Italy?

Ted Rose

2 Fox Hill Gardens, Upper Norwood, London.

Absurd prices at Smithfield

Although I enjoyed my visit to the 1998 Royal Smithfield Show, I was amazed at the prices that were being charged for food and drink. I was particularly aggrieved bearing in mind the depressed state of UK agriculture.

It was ludicrous that, with farmers receiving 50p/kg for bacon pigs and £94/t for milling wheat, retailers were able to charge £3.50 for a bacon sandwich. Also the price of chips was £1.50 for a small tray. Thats the equivalent of £3,000/t and with ware farm prices at £140/t it represents a mark up of about 2100% for the processing.

Clearly supermarkets are not the only companies taking British farmers for a ride; some of the smaller outlets are getting in on the act. It proves money can be made out of food production and it is time that more of the money involved was passed on to struggling farmers and not mercenary retailers.

Peter Stark

Harper Adams Agricultural College, Newport, Shropshire.

Dome contract ignores welfare

We were pleased to hear farm minister Nick Browns claim to have made representations to big public sector buyers urging them to support British legislation and source only pigmeat from high welfare farms that do not have stalls and tethers and are not feeding meat and bone meal.

So it was a surprise and disappointment to learn that the £60m catering contract for the Dome in London included no requirement to source food from farms complying with British food safety or animal welfare law. It was also disappointing to learn that the department had made no representations about this matter.

Perhaps he could redress this immediately. Could he also confirm that public sector purchases are to support this aim?

Ian Campbell

British Pig Industry Support Group (East Anglian Branch), c/o Clay Cottage, Clay Street, Walsham Le Willows, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

Lots of 5b cash still available

I refer to your article about the success of Lincolnshire Quality Beef and Lamb marketing group (Livestock, Nov 27). It is pleasing to see farmers marketing under a brand image and gaining premium prices rather than merely selling.

The statement that it is too late to obtain 5b money, because budgets are exhausted, may be correct for livestock initiatives in Lincolnshire. But it is not true for UK woodland initiatives. Phone calls to some of the 5b areas revealed that there is more than £2.5m of 5b and public money for woodland marketing and machinery still available.

In East Anglia, we have recently obtained £128,000 of Objective 5b funds for a charcoal marketing group, and are assisting a firewood marketing group. Both groups involve farmers and woodland contractors working in partnership to market a product under a branded scheme that adds value. But we are always looking for more woodland owners to join the groups and there is still about £1m available in East Anglia for similar new ventures. If this money is not spent soon it will be handed back to the EU which is hardly likely to react positively to future demands for farming support when the last time they gave money it was not taken up.

Woodlands are often seen as useless asset on farmland, but, with a little imagination, they can produce a useful tax-free income. And there are many UK organisations, such as Anglia WoodNet, set up to help farmers realise that goal. I am always surprised to see farmers buy wood for use on the farm when they could often produce a better and substantially cheaper product from their own timber. Your article (Features, Nov 27) highlighted a forward-looking farmer who had successfully seized the opportunity to make money from timber. Farmers in 5b areas could get substantial financial and advisory support but they do not seem to want to.

Anthony Davis

Chief executive, Ecotech, Swaffham, Norfolk.

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