12 March 1999


The Thirties werent so marvellous

David Richardsons article comparing the state of farming today with that of the 30s was fascinating (Jan 29). Personally I did not become involved in agriculture until 1934. But from the state of the industry then, and from what I was taught of conditions in the 20s, I would confirm that things were a good deal worse then than they are now.

One big difference was the price of land and the level of rents. Then, land was cheap, rents were low, and landlords (then owning 75% of farmed land) had great difficulty in finding good tenants for second class land. It was not uncommon for them to let farms rent free for a year or two, on condition that the new tenant would bring them back into a better condition.

Today land prices and rents are ridiculously high in relation to potential returns (due to availability of outside capital, roll-over and, to some extent, CAP subsidies) and rented farms are at a premium.

But it was not all doom and gloom then as I described in my book Years of Change for things began to improve markedly from 1931 onwards. The National Government, set up following the financial crisis that year, implemented Lord Addisons proposals for marketing, introducing marketing boards in 1933, while under the Ottawa Agreement, quotas on imports, giving Empire preference were agreed. Subsidies for certain products, such as sugar beet and beef were introduced, as were deficiency payments for cereals. These measures put a bottom so the market and confidence increased.

Good farmers on better quality farms had managed to make profits throughout the depression, and there was no shortage of pioneering farmers, such as Arthur Hosier with the milking bail, or Roland Dudley with the combine harvester, prepared to take risks with new methods. In the technical field, scientists such as George Stapledon and Martin Jones were revolutionising thought on grassland management, while the scientific rationing of cattle and pigs was making progress under the lead of T B Wood and the young John Hammond (already working on AI). And, of course, mechanisation was beginning to replace annual work at an increasing pace.

From 1930 onwards, it was, indeed, an exciting time for the development of farming – a time when the foundations were laid for the huge technological revolution that was to follow in the 50s and60s, following the Second World War.

M &#42 R Soper

Larksmead, Brightwell-cum-Sotwell, Wallingford.

Enjoy subsidies while they last

In the frantic rush to decide whether we love or hate Oliver Walston, I fear too many people in our industry are desperately trying to ignore the real future of subsidies – namely that there isnt one.

The CAP is dead. The faceless gods who run the EU have decided that big is beautiful. The club will be opened to a greater range of eastern European countries, and even to countries like Cyprus. These countries have extensive, inefficient agricultural systems and no money. Unless the Germans, French and Brits decide to shoulder the bill – which is not likely – the CAP simply can not continue.

The reality is that subsidies in their current form are a brief luxury. Enjoy them while they last, but start planning for their sad demise.

George Bowyer

Laundry Cottage, Weston Underwood, Olney, Bucks.

Grant aid gave us a kick-start

Henry Fells cry from the heart (Talking Point, Feb 19) about grant aided marketing groups misses the point about groups such as ours in Lincs.

We started with the help of 5b grant aid from MAFF, to promote Lincs beef and lamb throughout the county, dealing solely with independent butchers, and marketing both deadweight, and through local markets.

From the outset, our board has had representatives from all sides of the meat trade, and has tried to act as a conduit between producer and retailer.

To get a group of farmers, butchers, abattoir owners, and auctioneers to work towards a common end is not easy but we seem to be making progress.

A group such as ours would never have got together with such a business plan without the kick-start of grant aid, to tide them over the initial cashflow problems. Most banks look critically at approaches for loans from such group. Start up costs would be crippling.

Anybody, who is prepared to give up their valuable time for no financial recompense, to promote a county product they believe in, should be praised. Thank goodness there are still such people about.

Michael Read

Joint chairman of Lincolnshire Quality Beef and Lamb, Brook House, Hemingby, Horncastle, Lincs.

Congratulations to flag burners

I wish to disagree with John Lambkin (Letters, Feb 5) and congratulate the good people who burnt the flags at the London march on Sat, Jan 23.

I started farming in 1953 with pigs. There was then a 10 penny meat ration, and stock food was also rationed. The industry was state controlled up to the shop counter, the people running it were totally incompetent and quality was appalling.

Denmark had 51% of our market. The country had been very well treated by the Germans and it invested its Marshall Aid money on its pig industry. And I will admit the quality of the countrys pig meat was better.

The Danish industry then commissioned economist Prof Nash of Bangor University to write a book called Costs and Efficiency of Pig Production in England and Denmark, which was sent free to every MP in the UK. And so, with the blessing of the UK government, the propaganda campaign attack on British agriculture had begun,

Can you imagine the French or the Germans doing that? Countless industries have been destroyed in Europe over the past 100 years. Only Brussels has kept agriculture going, hence the denigration propaganda.

I would like to have struck the match myself.

G Crisp

Le Mesnil de Benneville, Cahagnes 14240, France.

No guarantee of food safety

With reference to TJ Hollambys letter (Feb 26), no farmer or purveyor of food can guarantee the safety of a single morsel that enters the recipients mouth. There is a simple solution to avert this disastrous problem – starvation.

Ted England

Manor House Farm, East Halton, Immingham, Lincs.

Use science to develop ideas

Like the rest of the population I have been watching the GM debate hot up in recent weeks but several articles in farmers weekly, not least your Opinion (Feb 19), has stirred me to write.

I strongly disagree with your opening statement that "Science alone should determine the fate of genetically modified foods". In agriculture, science should be developing new ideas and concepts which farmers can use to meet the needs of their customers, both in home markets and overseas. If farmers or the public do not wish to take up these developments then so be it.

I understand the thinking behind increasing production in Britain to satisfy growing world demand before our competitors completely dominate these developing markets, but this production of "economy standard" food seems completely at odds with the growing interest in food quality, taste and husbandry methods in Britain, typified by the meteoric rise of organic farming. As British agriculture moves to greater competition on the world market, surely we should be listening to the needs of our markets and producing high quality food which eclipses the standards of our competitors?

Adopting a non-GM standpoint could be one such edge. As a part-time farmer in my early 30s, I perceive the undignified headlong rush towards adopting GM foods as being more typical of the last 30 years where the attitude of some farmers seemed to be "Well feed you whether you like it or not!". I believe the modern market is much more discerning than this.

In your editorial you suggest that there should be a "greater effort by the agricultural industry to explain the technology to consumers". This seems to assume that the industry is united whereas I think that farmers, at least, are divided on the issue. I do not consider myself narrow-minded; of course we should consider carefully any new technology without knee-jerk reaction either way. Without an open-mind the first tractors would have been consigned to the scrap heap but GM food is a very different kettle of Arctic cod.

"Have we learned nothing from the BSE crisis?" reads your editorial and after seeing the effects on cattle prices over the last nine years or more I have learned plenty. I have learned that if you interfere with food production in a completely unnatural way people may die and I have learnt that no matter what is said by politicians, officials or company representatives at the end of the day it is farmers and the general public who pay the price if things go wrong. Therefore it is us who should have the ultimate say and make the choice.

Colin Hedley

10 Haleybridge Walk, Tangmere, Chichester, West Sussex.

ACCS standard is not matched

While reading Arable Focus (Feb 26) I noted how reluctantly Essex farmer Robin Lee was preparing to join ACCS. The picture on page S10 shows him inside his rodent and insect-free grain store. Turning to page S18 I was horrified to see Canadian farmer Sheldon Cooper pictured with his grain stored outside open to every prairie creature, with the grass growing through. Apparently 75% or 15m tonnes of prairie grain is exported and no doubt some reaches UK mills.

I wouldnt have thought many Canadian grain growers have heard of ACCS and I cant imagine they are prepared to build new grain stores to comply with UK standards. That leaves British farmers as usual at a disadvantage as they spend more money so that they can sell grain while UK mills continue to import grain from countries where it has been grown and stored in inferior conditions.

Perhaps in future we shall see bread in the shops labelled produced with partly ACCS grain. I dont think so.

ACCS, FABBL, call them what you like, are all a waste of time and money unless this country bans all imports of produce that does not meet UK standards.

Martyn Simpson

Heathland House, Ancaster, Grantham, Lincs.

Cows diet aids marge profits

As a dairy farmer, Ive just realised that we are not, and never have been, any good at marketing our milk.

Im not ridiculing the efforts of the former Milk Marketing Board or any present day product marketing companies, but what we farmers are doing on the farm, and have been doing for a long time.

What I am talking about is butter and its main competitor – margarine. Margarine is produced by hydrogenating liquid vegetable oil (derived from soyabeans, rapeseed and sunflower to name the main ones) to turn it into a product which spreads easier than butter.

The by-products of these extraction processes are extracted soya, rapeseed and sunflower. All of which are fed back to the cows. If my calculations are correct then a cow eating 4kg of extracted oilseed would have as much oil taken from the initial oilseed to equate to a 40 litre cow producing milk at 4% butterfat to produce 1600gm of butter. So, by buying extracted oilseeds for our dairy cows we are happily keeping the margarine industry in business!

The message is clear, if you would like an increase in quota/income, stop feeding the margarine industry. Feed non-oilseed derived proteins, such as lucerne, grass/clover and lupins to your cows.

Luppo Diepenbroek

South Langabeare Farm, Hatherleigh, Devon.

Ramblers must contribute more

I have a simple question of interest to many of your readers. Members of the Ramblers Association take tremendous pleasure from the countryside, but what do they give in return?

Many other walkers groups acknowledge the fact that, however welcome they may be, their presence does impinge on privacy and their use of footpaths, gates and styles causes wear and tear. They also recognise the efforts others make to keep footpaths in working order. Some, for example, make a small collection which is donated to a local cause such as the village hall fund, or turn out from time to time to lend a hand tidying a churchyard or to help with conservation work of some kind such as planting trees or clearing undergrowth.

I wrote to the Ramblers Association about this, but the reply I eventually received from Kate Ashbrook failed to cite a single altruistic contribution of this kind on the part of members of the association.

A recruiting leaflet sent out by the RA last September included "escaping from the pressures of twentieth century life" as one of the pleasures of rambling. Given the enormous transformations this century has wrought on the countryside that struck me as a most patronisingly sentimental and ill-informed comment, and I suggested in my letter to the association that it might have been better expressed. They evidently did not agree – and therein lies a clue.

If the Ramblers Association is unable to recognise the countryside as a real place inhabited by people with real – that is to say twentieth century – pre-occupations and problems, why should they feel any debt of honour towards the source of their enjoyment, or a responsibility to contribute in any way to its well being? I am doubtful if that would be the view of many members of the association, but it appears to be the way these things are viewed from head office.

Is it ethical or wise for one party in the partnership of walkers and landowners to take but never to give? Finding ways to make small returns for their pleasure would engender great goodwill towards the Ramblers Association at very little cost and, by demonstrating a responsible interest in the countryside, radically improve relations between all the parties involved.

Peter Thompson

Red Lion House, Horderley, Craven Arms, Shropshire.

Plastic products cost too much

With low farm incomes and low worldwide oil prices, is it not time for the prices of plastic sheeting, plastic string, bale warp and netting to be cut? Farmers have to tighten their belts, how about manufacturers doing the same?

B Warren

Glebe Farm, Liddington, Swindon, Wilts.

Writing on drug packs too small

In this age of increased legislation regarding drugs, why are the most important facts such as dose rate withdrawal times, adverse reactions written on the pack, wormer or medicine are in such small writing? It seems to be getting smaller by the year. Please could the manufacturers highlight it somehow.

My vet had treated some ewes, he brought with him Lectade just in case I had run out or had none on the farm. Neither of us could read the dose rate without glasses, and I only need glasses for driving.

This is a plea for help as sometimes, when you are outside or in an emergency you have not got time to rush in and look for a magnifying glass.

It is not only a concern to us, but also arable farmers especially regarding the spraying recommendations.

Ms Jane Bradbury

Syresham Fields, Brackley, Northants.

Buzzards cause lapwing decline

Your report of the drop in lapwing numbers (News, Feb 26) prompts me to share my observations over the past 60 years. We have a small pool on the hill above the farm at about 1100ft. Every year lapwings nest there and rear their young.

The RSPB blame the farmers, but the true answer is the rising number of buzzards. The number of lapwings on the pool 50 years ago was about 50-60 pairs. Last year I counted six pairs, they hatched a few young, but I observed the buzzards hanging around them, and they ended up with no chicks, I doubt if Ill see two pairs this year.

The same is true of the curlew. It used to be a pleasure to go on the hill in the summer to hear their call, but now the hill is dead quiet, thanks to the protection of the buzzards.

Raymond Lloyd Jones

Rhydonnen, Llangollen, Denbighshire.

Must agree to disagree

With reference to the energy efficiency of organic agriculture, I suspect Joey Hughes (Letters, Feb 26) and myself will have to agree to disagree. However, what remains clear is that little solid evidence exists to support either view.

I hope the lively correspondence in these pages during the past few weeks will encourage someone to conduct the appropriate research into this topic. However, I am sure the debate concerning the merits or otherwise of all aspects of organic farming would be much better served if Joey Hughes refrained from the sort of inaccurate personal attack made on myself.

W T Green

George Green (Bozeat) Ltd, White House Farm, Bozeat, Wellingborough, Northants.

See more