12 February 1999


Beef bone ban is just hypocrisy

I expect many others in the farming community shared my extreme disappointment at the news that farm minister Nick Brown proposes to keep the ban on beef on the bone. The lifting of this ban would have meant survival for some farmers whereas perhaps now their fate has been decided by others.

Safety of the consumer seems to be the sole reasoning for retaining this ban and our government appears to be concerned about the health of each individual living in the UK.

If that was true then the government should be praised for its concern. Unfortunately, it makes a stand only on certain issues which dont affect the governments purse.

We have been warned continuously about the effects smoking has on health and the concern that smoking can contribute towards cancer. We have also heard the warnings relating to heavy drinking, but have these products been banned? Has anyone who sells these products faced the threat of imprisonment?

Could this be because the government receives the high taxes levied on these products? No one can deny that both are addictive and extremely costly both to health and income.

The consumer has been left the choice to smoke or not to smoke, to drink or not to drink. The consumer should therefore have the same choice with beef on the bone.

We all have our own ideas about BSE and the cause but like other matters we may never learn the truth. However, while we are waiting to hear the facts let us be allowed to decide our own preference in how we eat our beef.

S A Farnfield

Llyscoed, Capel Dewi, Llandysul, Ceredigion.

Pig marketing must succeed

I read with interest your leading article (Jan 22) on the imminent arrival of a new giant producer marketing group in the pig industry. I echo your comments that it must succeed, that it should be non-confrontational, and that it should build partnerships within the food chain. This approach has had limited success in the past due mainly to an imbalance in size between the buyer and the seller.

We as pig producers must not let this initiative fail. It will need much lateral thinking and the letting go of entrenched views and practices.

Change and evolution can be painful, but without them we producers are finished.

One only has to look at the structure of European pig industries, where partnerships prevail, to see that their herds have grown over the years. Farmers can be short-sighted at times; particularly when it comes to spending money.

Setting up of a super group will cost money but that will be peanuts compared with the potential throughput.

Lets pull together and make this venture a success. As you aptly said "we cannot afford to fail".

Hugo Stewart

Chairman, Quality Pig Producers Ltd, Botleys Farm, Downton, Salisbury, Wilts.

Dont abandon self-sufficiency

Oliver Walston is entitled to a fair hearing. What amazes me is that no-one has pointed out that just over 50 years ago thousands of men lost their lives at sea attempting to keep this island supplied with food. That is the original reason for subsidies, or featherbedding as it was described in the early days.

Even now, the idea of self-sufficiency should be taken seriously. The need might well arise again if for different reasons. Comparing of the farming industry with mining and steel is absurd. We perish for want of food but can survive without coal or steel or oil.

Even more absurd is the equation of farming with landscaping – an idea suggested by former farm minister John Gummer. He is on record as saying that we must help farmers to look after the countryside properly. If that was true, heaven help the pig and poultry producers.

I conclude that Mr Walston was needling his interlocutors into stating their own case, rather than doing it for them. But why did he not come to Yorkshire?

C Sandison

19 Fountside, Sheffield, Yorks.

Put Olivers TV fee to good use

I have watched all three episodes of Against the Grain written and presented by Oliver Walston and I congratulate him on his presentational skills.

But the timing of the series was unfortunate as it coincided with a period when many livestock farmers face serious financial problems despite subsidies.

I do not expect Mr Walston to hand over his subsidy cheque of £180,000 but I invite him, if he has not already done so, to send his fee for writing and presenting Against the Grain, to the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, so that RABI can help those farmers less fortunate than himself.

Joe Stoddart

Eastridge, Great Bourton, Banbury, Oxon.

Walston speaks the unspeakable

Judging by FWs letters column, reactions to Oliver Walstons TV programme Against the Grain have varied from spite and envy and cries of traitor to those from a small minority who acknowledge that perhaps he speaks the truth.

Whatever your reaction, Oliver has, in his inimitable way, dared to speak the unspeakable. Yes, he is not your typical farmer and Yes, he will not starve if subsides are removed. I suspect however, that if, and only if, UK farmers knew that in a subsidy-free world the playing field would be a level, the majority would vote for the removal of support.

Anyone who really believes that Europe can afford to continue paying such an enormous proportion of its annual budget to farmers is in need of counselling. It cannot and will not last, it is just a question of time.

Modulation and major reductions in intervention prices in Agenda 2000 are only the beginning. The pace of change will quicken and those who cannot keep up must make decisions while asset values and taxation circumstances are so favourable.

Upland farmers in our countrys most scenically beautiful areas, where sheer topography prohibits any practical method of cost cutting through economies of scale, should and will be supported.

For those farming open fields, self-help is the only solution. Whether that means greater co-operation with neighbours, contract farming, farm business tenancies or getting out, is for individual farmers to determine.

Peter Day,

The Old Rectory, Swannington, Norwich.

Take advice on ragwort control

While watching Oliver Walstons TV programme Against the Grain, I was horrified to see the expanse of ragwort on his set-aside and then to watch him drive through it in his tank.

All the advice last year talked about controlling ragwort before it reached epidemic proportions. The roadsides were covered in it before some local councils got to grips with the weed, and there was plenty to see in fields; including those grazed by horses.

The seed fallout from Mr Walstons land alone will certainly help to increase the ragwort population this year. Not a good advertisement for farm management.

Name & address supplied.

Olivers opulent foreign display

Perhaps Oliver Walston, in his role as champion of the British shirking class, would be convincing if his opulent televised display of machinery featured more manufactured by firms that choose to locate major assembly plants in the UK.

Our best tractor was built at Coventry in 1962 and our four-wheel-drive vehicle at Solihull in 1967. If funding allowed, British workers would still be trusted to build us our replacements; unlike Mr Walston who prefers the fruits of foreign workers labour.

British miners, shipyards, factories and farmers were all urged to use modern methods to increase production after World War II.

Only one group did so without demarcation disputes, working to rule, strikes and taking pride in shoddy work practices. Unlike many others, when farmers fail they are not eligible to receive massive redundancy payments.

Ashley Mack

Lower Hare Park, Six Mile Bottom, Newmarket, Suffolk.

Informative TV, well done Oliver

I was sorry to read in your letters and leader column (Opinion, Jan 8) so much criticism of Oliver Walstons TV programme Against the Grain, after only the first programme. Better to review the series as a whole, rather than attack the first programme.

Also many writers have missed the point. We know Mr Walstons views on CAP, but no one can say he didnt give others opportunities to disagree.

What a wonderful opportunity for the man in the street to see farming at its most diverse, from the barley baron in East Anglia to a hill farmer in Wales struggling to survive.

Oliver managed to produce a lively, informative programme about the state of farming today on prime time television. He has, therefore, done more to inform people living in a top floor flat in Tower Hamlets or the suburban housewife in Acacia Avenue about what they eat and how it is produced than anyone else has done for a long time. It was notable that no one from the NFU had anything further to add to the discussion.

Well done Oliver. We look forward to another series, and the chance again to inform the public about real issues in the countryside.

C D Thomas

Tunbeck Farm, Wortwell, Harleston, Norfolk.

Global playing field is uneven

Like him or loathe him, Oliver Walstons TV performance was very professional, even if it was a load of organic manure.

I hate subsidies as much as anyone, mostly because big businesses take most of the money because they pitch their prices at the level farmers can afford; they also operate cartels.

European-built combines costing £163,000 in the UK can be bought for £108,000 in the USA! And identical agrochemicals are more than double what Australians have to pay.

But the big difference is the climatic advantage the big food exporting nations have over us. They do not have to put up with muggy weather when their crops are growing and that cuts disease and weeds by 75%. Also no rain during harvest means no drying costs and no strain on combines.

Even on large-scale farms paying no rent and cutting fixed and variable wheat costs from £363 to £246/acre, with wheat at £64/t, it still needs 3.84t/acre to break even. Yet Australian and North American producers can make good profits at that price.

And how can our fat lamb and beef farmers compete with New Zealands all-the-year round grass? My nephew runs 2100 ewes and 180 bulls single-handed!

George Scales

Scales Farms, Cobblers Pieces, Abbess Roding, Ongar, Essex.

Covering up market info

On a recent trip to New Zealand, I read that its venison marketing organisation has withdrawn from circulation all market forms of the information it used to provide.

It found that information and market indicators were read by the Koreans, and others, who used it against NZ farmers. The market information, gathered at farmers expense, drove down prices.

Perhaps MLC should cover up its market information before we stop paying our levies.

Further to Neil Datsons letter (Jan 22), I would advise him to throw his MAFF pig census in the bin. After all, MAFF cannot withhold his subsidies.

Andrew Stoddart

Colstoun Mains, Haddington, East Lothian.

Kiwis stand on own two feet

I write in response to Jonathan Batchelors comments about NZ farming (Letters, Oct 23).

He states that hygiene and animal welfare regulations cannot be compared to the UK. NZ dairy farmers are subjected to four milking shed inspections a year, not one inspection every three years, as is in the UK. There is also daily sampling of the milk, similar to the UK.

On the issue of welfare, NZ cows are under less stress, suffer less lameness, have less chance of getting ill and most important, they live longer. They are also BSE free.

On the subject of economic reform; if UK farmers get their act together now most of them should survive when subsidies go and they have to stand on their own two feet.

The future of UK farming does not look too bright from a UK farmers point of view. Their future looks a lot worse from this side of the world.

I do have to agree with Mr Batchelor when he says that NZ farmers live in the real world. Theyre the only farmers I know that can stand on their own feet.

Samuel Kerr,

Gardners Road, Rakaia, New Zealand.

How different are organics?

I followed with interest the reaction to Geoffrey Hollis Talking Point (Nov 27) about organic farming.

As a conventional farmer, who cares very much about animal welfare and the environment, I would like to offer the following comments on this subject.

I doubt whether any analysis, either by taste or laboratory testing, could find a difference between organic milk and lamb and our own. I dont believe that the welfare of our farm animals has anything to do with whether we farm organically or not. Sustainability is a difficult word to define but our aim is to leave this farm in better heart than we found it.

My main concern is that the low levels of fertiliser and sprays that we use may have reduced wild flower populations and some of the wild animal life. There is much we can do to counter this, such as leaving ragged untidy hedgerows and rotating maize round the grassland. So we have been encouraged recently to see nesting buzzards and barn owls which have long been absent.

That leaves me wondering whether the rapidly growing numbers who believe that it is worth paying extra for organic food have been misinformed. I agree with Mr Hollis that if low-income families and pensioners are among them, it is sad and unnecessary.

Nick Viney

Whitecliffe Farm, Swanage, Dorset.

Glyphosate is non-residual

Your correspondent, Jose MacDonald (Letters, Jan 29) misinterprets the reasons for the lack of new growth following glyphosate application to grass..

After spraying off a field, new seed germination is naturally suppressed in undisturbed, compacted soil, especially out of the main season for weed emergence. The mulch formed by the dying, treated plants would also inhibit further weed growth. Farmers have long made use of these facts in classic stale seed-bed techniques which, depending on the time of application, could keep a field free of weeds for up to five months.

The letter cites a report from the USA published some time ago, which has been widely dismissed.

There are many studies which show that soil fauna and flora not significantly affected by glyphosate used as recommended in field conditions. The only effects reported are in laboratory tests using very high doses and where the growing medium is absent or known to artificially amplify effects.

Most of your readers will know that glyphosate is a non-residual, highly-effective herbicide that breaks down within a few days of contacting the soil. Harvested crops do not contain residues of seed-bed applied glyphosate.

Richard Garnett

Glyphosate registration manager, Monsanto, PO Box 53, Lane End Road, High Wycombe, Bucks.

Quangos only increase costs

Its high time something was said to nail the continually quoted myth that MAFF leans towards farmers. If our government and police force applied the letter of the law with the same ruthless efficiency as MAFF at Worcester there would be far fewer villains and fraudsters walking the streets. Any form which is incorrectly filled in, whether it is a missing letter, wrong box, a missing date or its returned a day late, comes back, usually accompanied by a strongly worded warning, or worse, a reduction in payment.

Nevertheless, in order to protect the public from MAFF-assisted farmers we are continually being loaded down with government sponsored quangos which are good at inflating our costs and precious little else. I recently attended one of the MLCs well advertised meetings. If it was meant to be a public relations exercise it failed miserably. The main, in fact the only, theme was concerned with demonstrating its advertising endeavours on our behalf. Im quite sure that Satchi & Satchi would have done it better at half the cost.

This is now to be augmented by the Food Standards Agency. If the grossly unfair system proposed to fund it is anything to go by, this has been dreamed up by the same set of people with paper qualifications who produced the rest of the red tape.

Food is a product of nature and will always carry elements of risk, but providing we keep away from all those scientific short-cuts being foisted on us, and take care in the way its prepared and cooked, our food is as safe as ever.

Harry Shutkever,

Wythwood Farm, Wilmore Lane, Wythall, Birmingham.

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