23 April 1999


Inspection procedures just not on

I have received a communication from BCMS detailing its inspection procedure. I have no disagreement with the need for checking and inspection, particularly where public money is involved. However, I do find two points unacceptable and impractical.

The inspections will be unannounced and employees will be required to assist at these unannounced inspections. Livestock account for a small proportion of our farm income and I cannot see it as being reasonable that I should be expected to break my contractual obligations with my marketing agents, with the risk of financial penalties, because my arable employees have to be diverted to muster cattle for an unannounced inspection.

P G Pharaoh

The Marshland Estate, Sudbourne, Woodbridge, Suffolk.

Arecord for passports?

So far this year I have made only two separate applications, for new cattle passports to the BCMS. On both occasions we have received incorrect passports, which have had to be returned. Is this a record?

R Leach

The Battle Herd of Polled South Devon Cattle, Long Walk Farm, Swainham Lane, St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex.l Cattle passports are now available through the Cattlemail service on Farmers Weekly Interactive ( – EDITOR.

Tattoo solution to tag problem

I write regarding your article "Tag Snags" (Livestock, Apr 2). I know tags sometimes rip. My farm has all wire mesh fencing and I find the loss of tags a problem.

An implement that can be read with a reader is not the answer. There are times when we need to know a number and may not have the reader with us. I cannot think why the RSPCA has not objected to these large tags and the ripped ears they often cause.

For many years I used a tattoo in cattle ears before switching to the small tags. The time has come to go back to a tattoo but not like the past ones. Those were impossible to read on black skins and one got into a mess putting the number in.

A large dot printer that puts letters and numbers into the ear would be a good idea. The ink could contain a material that could be read by eye or a meter giving us the best of both worlds. Much is invested in livestock, lets not ruin them with torn and damaged ears.

David Palmer

Whitegates Farm, Rushton, Kettering, Northants.

Quota leasing price puzzler

Will somebody please explain to me, and to other farmers, why the leasing price for milk is 6-7p litre when milk is being sold to the dairy companies for only 15p litre?

Hopefully, this price will bring about a fall in the value of milk quota to the benefit of future generations of milk producers.

Worcs farmer

Name and address supplied.

Extracting cash from farmers

Ive just thought of a brilliant money-making idea. We get legislation passed to encourage sheep farmers to give all sorts of information about their farms, soils and dip waste that they apply to their land. And then we charge them for giving that information.

And whats more, we can charge them every year for repeating that information. The closing date for such a scheme, yes of course – Apr 1. We could call ourselves the EA (Extortion Agency). Some farms might club together, thereby increasing the risk of water pollution in that area, but never mind about minor details.

If you think such a scheme is immoral, how about starting a fund where each farmer not willing to participate donates money to compensate individuals who might fall foul of the above mentioned legislation.

Powys farmer

Name and address supplied.

Consider weight of your tractor

Your article on the effects of soil compaction on the maize crop (Livestock, Mar 19) makes interesting reading. But one major point may have been overlooked. The contractor concerned lists timeliness, the correct use of tyres and tack weight as important factors.

One point not taken into account often enough is the vastly differing weight of tractors of similar pto power in the popular 160/200hp group. Those range from just over 5t (Valmet models 8550, 8750 and 8950) to well over 8t for some other makes.

Recent investigations at Harper Adams College show that at the all-important depth of 20/24cm, the effect on compaction by tractors at the top end of the weight range is considerable, especially compared with the effect of lighter machines. Although it is simple to add weight for high traction draft operations, it is impossible to remove designed-in weight for lighter work, be it slurry spreading, secondary cultivations, planting or trailer haulage.

John Nicholls

Valtra Tractors (UK), 5 Seymour Court, Manor Park, Runcorn, Cheshire.

Is your family in agriculture?

I am researching farming families and am interested in your readers accounts of what it is to be a farmer, married to a farmer or a farmers son or daughter.

If any of your readers have the time to jot down their thoughts I would be grateful. Information offered would of course be confidential and indeed may be anonymous. If possible, I would appreciate the respondents age, farming county and an indication as to whether their holding is mainly arable or stock. Thank you.

S Hepworth-Smith

Department of Sociology, The University of York, York.

BPISG is being bloody-minded

I would like to comment on the reaction of the British Pig Industry Support Group to live pig imports from Northern Ireland (News, Mar 23).

Pig farmers on this island fully understand the frustrations of GB pig farmers about low prices. We even suggest we know more about this problem than GB pig farmers because pig prices in Ireland were 5% lower than GB prices last year. In the border region and in Northern Ireland pig prices were 16% lower than GB prices last year.

I am amazed at the lack of concern shown by the BPISG for fellow pig farmers in Northern Ireland. The action taken to prevent live pig imports from fellow citizens is uncharacteristic of the broad-minded British. There are a number of facts I wish to highlight.

Blue Ear Pig Disease is endemic in GB and arrived in Northern Ireland from GB. You may have superior AD status but you do have other diseases such as TGE and PED both of which are not present on this island. Northern Ireland has an AD eradication programme in place and most Republic of Ireland units are AD free.

Half of the Republic of Irelands pigmeat inputs are sourced in the UK. A number of UK multiples, such as Tesco, Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury, see commercial potential on this island and are not thrown out because they are British.

The overall import/export comparison between Ireland and the UK clearly favours the UK. Some 31% of Irelands total imports come from GB while only 21% of Irelands exports go to GB.

So-called welfare-friendly straw based sow housing systems are not as consumer-friendly on food safety grounds as other production systems.

I trust that the BPISG will take account of these points in the future and not be so bloody-minded towards fellow citizens in Northern Ireland.

They might also note that the UK average price currently is 26% higher than the ROI price and 8% higher than the price in Northern Ireland.

Ned Walsh

Executive secretary, National Pigs and Pigmeat Committee, The Irish Farmers Association, Irish Farm Centre, Bluebell, Dublin.

High yielders pay big price

Your recent issue (Livestock, Apr 9) contained serious news for the dairy industry. Fertility was reported as being down 10% on that of a decade ago and cows have to be culled before the third lactation. There are also low quality calves, problems with scour and pneumonia in calves and mastitis in cows.

There are other penalties for increasing milk production without increasing herds. Those include metabolic disease, indigestion and ketosis. No wonder we have low rating in herd health compared with other north European and Scandinavian countries.

Must we continue to set such store by high-yielding cows? They pay a heavy price and the state of the industry suggests that this does not even make them economic. Extremely good yields can be obtained by grazing their natural food – grass. Cows bred for several generations for high production become dependent on concentrates. If these fall below a certain level, the cow has to call on her bodily resources to survive, and if these are not replenished, may die.

Remembering the dire straits of the pig and sheep industries, due largely to over-production, we need to ensure that dairy cows do not go the same way.

J Bower

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

Human health and GM food

There is another potential problem with genetically modified foodstuffs that I have not seen mentioned in FARMERS WEEKLY. Apart from the risks of mutation into the natural food chain, human health may be compromised.

In the 1950s, two Yale University professors suggested that the electromagnetic fields surrounding living organisms might be the source of the organisation that controls growth and species characteristics. They discovered that by altering a single gene in a plant or by subjecting the seeds to chemicals, their energy life fields became weaker.

If 80% of our foodstuffs are likely to be genetically modified in the future, much of the food we consume could be lifeless and inert, without the vital life force to help protect our immune systems.

I believe it may be possible to measure these subtle energies using Kirlian photography and I would be pleased to hear from anybody who understands this process.

Peter Simpson

27 Munnion Road, Ardingly, Haywards Heath.

NBA report is missed chance

The recent IGD Food Project Beef Action Group report is referred to within NBA as the "nursery rhyme book". As my name is listed as a contributor, I must comment.

It is mostly corporate market-speak dressed in a risible package which, like many modern retailers presentation of beef itself, relies on appearance at the expense of quality. After I had read the glossy pamphlets that constitute the report, I found myself searching for the main document but there wasnt one.

The report is a missed opportunity. Some elements of it are welcome. These are the acceptance that not all cattle movements between farms are inefficient, the recognition of a role in the beef market for a modern system of livestock centres, and the beginnings of a recognition that there are two production streams within the industry.

The reports dominant theme is improved co-operation between parts of the beef supply chain. However no attempt is made to analyse in a self-critical way the lack of understanding and trust which exists between farmers and retailers, and between some farmers and abattoirs.

The report concentrates on streamlining production and procurement of the raw product. It might have held more credence with farmers if a spotlight had been directed at some down-stream practices whose efficiency experts are beginning to question.

Eating-quality is dismissed in a few glib sentences. That means the challenge of unravelling a paradox that the beef that diners prefer to eat in a restaurant (well-conditioned and probably marbled) is different to that which attracts the same consumers on a supermarket shelf (fresh-looking and no visible fat)? To what extent is visual attraction the result of marketing campaigns rather than genuine consumer preference? Would marketing better-matured beef result in a shift of altitude which would enable retailers to present beef of superior and more consistent eating-quality at a premium price?

The report fails to recognise the position of the UKs extensive specialist herd, shared within Europe by only Ireland and to a lesser extent, France, as a producer of steer and heifer beef through grass-based systems. Judicious and co-ordinated fast-finishing could improve both conformation and eating-quality but the opportunity to market British beef as a differentiated product has been overlooked. The IGDs wish that the beef industry runs along the lines of broiler chicken production would undermine this possibility.

Robert Robinson

National Beef Association, The Firs, Sheep Centre, Malvern, Worcs.

Farm short of a disease strategy

I was dismayed to learn that one of your barometer farms (Arable, Apr 2) seems to be a full rate short of a disease strategy.

Just two weeks after the publicity you gave to the Fungicide Resistance Action Committees guidelines to reduce the risk of resistance developing to strobilurins, you report that Elms Farm, advised by Aubourn Farming, intends to adopt a repeat low-dose programme.

As the manufacturers of Landmark and Mantra, BASF fully endorses the FRAC guidelines. In summary they recommend a maximum of two applications in cereals and full rates at all times.

The aim of this recommendation is to prolong the life and the undoubted effectiveness of the strobilurin fungicides to the mutual benefit of both manufacturers and cereal growers.

A low-dose strategy flies in the fact of this logic. In the short term, low doses fail to trigger the yield benefits that are the hallmark of strobilurin fungicides. In the long term they could encourage resistance strains of disease to develop.

It is to be hoped that Elms Farm does not go down in the history books as the first place in the UK where resistance to strobilurins occurs – to the detriment of cereal growers everywhere.

Dr N J Lawrence

Technical services manager, BASF Agricultural Division, PO Box 4, Earl Road, Cheadle Hulme, Cheadle, Cheshire.

Courses for pesticide users

I write concerning your article about Pesticide Regulations and the intention of MAFF to drop the grandfather rights. Thats an exemption that allows pesticides users born before Dec 31 1964 to operate without a certificate.

Chris Wise, NFU, states it will cost the individual £250 to get a certificate. I am somewhat puzzled regarding the final paragraph which stated that there were not adequate training resources available.

Boston Training Group has been in existence since 1979 and year by year we are meeting the demand for PA1, PA2, PA4, PA6, PA10 and PA12. We have covered all these courses with training resources readily available. Boston Training Group is affiliated to Rural Training Links. Im sure my colleagues would agree with me that if the need is there we can supply the training. We are also affiliated to Lantra.

Training groups are in existence throughout the country and I would hope they can supply training as efficiently as we try to do in Lincolnshire.

Jean Mews

Peartree Farm, Quadring Eaudyke, Spalding, Lincs.

Intensification causes bird loss

Aubrey Charman (Letters, Apr 2) has a few years more experience than I do and the family farm in Tring has long been built on. The fall in farmland birds is due to changes in farming practice and not to the activities of magpies and sparrowhawks.

Work by the British Trust for Ornithology has found them not guilty of the declines in many small birds reported over the past 25 years. Detailed research looked at the national population trends of 23 common birds and relates them to the upward trend of predators. A 100 plots were selected and almost 100,000 hours of fieldwork produced the results. For each plot the population change of the small birds in each pair of adjacent years was compared with the predator numbers in the first year. Thousands of examples were analysed and there was no direct relationship between the increase of predators and the decline in small birds.

The BTO data show large increases in both the sparrowhawks and magpies nationwide and very marked declines in many species of small birds. No one can deny that the handsome magpie takes many chicks and eggs of small birds of that the dashing sparrowhawk feeds on birds.

But ecologists are convinced that the blame lies with modern agricultural practice which has changed and intensified so much over the last 20-30 years.

Chris Mead

The Nunnery, Hilborough, Thetford, Norfolk.

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