28 May 1999


Large ear tags cause problems

I write to clarify the RSPCAs position in response to Mr Palmers letter (Apr 23) regarding cattle ear tagging. We are receiving an increasing number of calls from distressed farmers who are experiencing major problems with the large ear tags which they are required to apply. The result is that calves are left with torn and often infected ears. Ironically, farmers cannot then apply a new tag or legally move the animal.

The RSPCA is opposed to the double tagging of cattle and since the autumn of 1996 has made consistent representations to MAFF expressing our concerns. We have urged MAFF to apply pressure in Europe to change Article 4 of the Council Regulations to allow one ear tag to be replaced with a more humane method of identification.

We have been told by MAFF that the main reason for difficulties is that farmers are not applying the tags properly, and that if there is a problem, the farmer must report it to their local MAFF office. One recent inquiry involved a farmer with over 40 years experience of cattle farming. One might assume that by now, he would know the correct procedures for fitting an ear tag. Telling him that he is doing it wrong does nothing to help resolve a serious animal welfare issue and, given the distressing nature of some of the phone calls which we are receiving, a human welfare issue.

The RSPCA will continue to pursue this matter because our evidence and information supplied by farmers suggests that the present system is seriously flawed.

John Avizienius

Senior scientific officer, RSPCA Headquarters, Causeway, Horsham, West Sussex.

Vulnerability gene needed

While I am a supporter of GM technology, I am also nervous of the long-term consequences as the science is developing at present. We have to be able to put the genie back into its bottle.

Once a genetically modified plant is introduced to the environment it is impossible at present to pull it back if a problem is found with a particular modification at a later date. As there is no means of differentiating the modified plant from other plants of the same species there could never be any guarantee that "weed" plants with a problem modification would not be present in a crop once the modified plant has been introduced to an area.

The terminator gene is put forward as a solution but has other problems attached to it. First, the terminator gene has to be introduced well down the multiplication line and hence it would be difficult to guarantee that all seed sold contained the terminator gene.

A better approach would be the introduction of a vulnerability gene. If a plant can be made resistant to glyphosate it should be possible to make it vulnerable to another chemical. Adopting this approach, a particular modification could be removed within the species making use of its vulnerability as well as outside that species using normal chemicals. The vulnerability would ideally be a compound that is benign to all other plants. As it would be introduced at the outset of the breeding and multiplication process it would be absolutely linked to the modification.

The public could be won over to the idea in the short-term. But it will rebel if a problem is identified and the food industry finds it cannot remove it quickly.

Jim Alston

Calthorp Farm, Calthorpe, Norwich.

Dont overlook practical skills

The article on farm staff (Features, May 14) was the tip of the iceberg. Why are practical skills harder to find? Is it the reduction in sandwich courses or the support and encouragement given to students to undertake extra courses or the overall teaching system?

Having come from Ireland, where there is a lack of courses in agriculture which cater for young farmers who wish to progress above certificate level, I feel that colleges here are providing what employers almost want.

The sandwich course system gives students a chance to learn, grow up, earn some money and prove to the industry that there are enthusiastic young farmers. I could not have had a better sandwich year for learning or received a better teaching system throughout my college.

Problems arise when essential courses are overlooked. I refer to spraying certificates, AI training, forklift training etc.

We all know that students are short of money, so would it not be in colleges interest to help fund these courses and help students complete them.

From the vacancies I have seen, they all require recognised training. But how many of us leave college without such training?

The opportunities are there so lets use our chances to keep the industry alive.

Paul Kennedy

Writtle College, Chelmsford, Essex.

Bleak prospects for labourers

I refer to your article Practical skills get even harder to find (Features, May 14). It starts by saying "Good quality staff are hard to find", and "some students emerge from college with higher opinions of themselves than they deserve."

But farm labourers have bleak career prospects compared with other jobs.

As a young lad, they work from 6.30am until 6.30pm, get the third Sunday off every month and live in a small cottage. Many old farmers tell me they started off as a labourer, then rented a small farm and moved up. But now with land prices as they are, and the introduction of quotas with a financial value, young lads start at the bottom and finish at the bottom.

Young people cannot afford to work simply because they enjoy the way of life. They need to work for a good reward to fund a fulfilling lifestyle.

Harper Adams says it has different courses, but with labourers wages whos going to pay £6000 to learn how to milk a cow or inject a sheep?

Perhaps the problem is half the lecturers at farm colleges are failed farmers.

Peter Horn (Age 15)

Birks Head, Bleatarn, Warcop, Appleby, Cumbria.

Problem solved, thanks to FW

Regarding previous correspondence (May 7) detailing our difficulty with the BCMS, I am pleased to say that we received recently an unreserved written apology from the director of BCMS. In fact, the director promised to address this matter with the staff concerned. So thank you, thank-you, thank-you, FARMERS WEEKLY for yet again getting to those areas we mere mortals cannot reach.

Mrs Iris Bray

Pool Hall Farm, Menheniot, Liskeard, Cornwall.

Certification made easier

In response to Mr Pattison (Letters, May 7) on the issue of fees for organic certification, I should like to make clear that the Soil Association is committed to ensuring the continued financial viability of all organic small-holders and market gardeners.

We are well aware that certification charges are a significant element of the cost of production.

However, in order to fulfil the requirements of the European regulation EC 2092/91, which governs the certification of organic food, Soil Association Certification Ltd (and all other UK certification bodies) has to carry out the same rigorous procedures, regardless of the size of the organic unit.

Time taken to complete an inspection visit is a small part of the total costs incurred. This year we have lobbied the government seeking payment to support small producers but we were unsuccessful in securing additional funding.

Although fees to small units may seem unfairly high in relation to the turnover of those businesses, Mr Pattison fails to appreciate that far from subsidising the larger farms through their certification fees, small producers have been heavily subsidised by SA Certification Ltd for several years. Their fees, even at current levels, fall well below the costs incurred in maintaining their licences.

Inevitably some small holders will find it difficult to afford the costs of certification in the future. In response to this, SA Certification Ltd is launching a new flexible group certification scheme, designed specifically to offer small growers a realistic alternative. This scheme offers not only significant cost-saving benefits but also enhances the opportunities for local food economies and marketing co-operatives to develop and grow. In the absence of financial support from the government, which we believe should be provided to enable smaller farmers who adopt greener farming practices to remain viable, Soil Association Certification Ltd will continue to subsidise certification for this group.

Many people will recognise that the strength of the UK organic market place today is substantially linked to work which the Soil Association has done in promoting public awareness of the food quality and environment benefits of organic farming. This welcome position can be maintained only if the integrity of certification and standards are protected. That demands the highest levels of competence, training and investment in systems, in order to cope with demands placed upon us.

J Feron

Commercial & certification director, Soil Association Certification Ltd.

More advice on recording please

We record a small herd of Aberdeen-Angus from which, in business terms, we get nothing.

We hope Signet records (Livestock, May 14) will now become more useful to our customers and us. We would value more advice and consultancy.

After all, the aim of recording is to improve our cattle and compare our results with other breeders of Aberdeen-Angus.

Philip and Colin Saunders

Higher Colmer, Modbury, Ivybridge, Devon.

Cake suppliers and homegrown

I would like to congratulate you on the content of your grazing and grassland features and for many similar articles offering comprehensive advice from varying viewpoints in an unbiased way.

An article (Livestock, Apr 23) of particular interest reported on the DRC grazing conference at Harper Adams. We accept that there are differing opinions regarding dairy and grassland management. There cannot be one hard and fast rule that will fit all situations. The fundamental we all acknowledge is that farmers must achieve more from their homegrown resources.

The article quoted Ian Browne, a local and highly-reputable dairy consultant from the Farm Consultancy Group. It was Mr Brownes comment "comparing notes with people in your area will help, but your cake supplier wont", that spurred me to write. What an old fashioned idea.

As a cake manufacturer we are acutely aware of the importance of homegrown resources. We arrange many highly-successful events for farmers to broaden their knowledge and education on various matters relating to grassland/forage production and diary management/nutrition.

We believe that we must provide first-class advice and our specialists operate within their own subject area. The days of the corn rep popping in once a month for a chat to see if you need anything are long gone. We offer a complete service which includes advice from specialists not jack of all trades and we dont charge for it.

Perhaps Mr Browne would like to update his records with regard to what a cake supplier does these days.

Helen Mathieu

Agriforce Forage (division of HST Feeds Ltd), 4th Avenue, Weston Road, Crewe, Cheshire.

Less maize than control average

I write with reference to your article High forage unwise on supported acres (Livestock, Apr 30).

Diana Allen from Axient stated that nearly half of Axients clients only get 9t of DM/ha of maize. I would like to point out that the NIAB control average for 1994-1998 early varieties was 13.7tDM/ha.

The control varieties in these trials are well-tested and recommended as they are grown on a wide range of sites throughout the country for at least five years. Many newer varieties are out performing these by about 10%. Therefore, 15t of DM/ha are obtainable by farmers growing maize in the correct manner.

If farmers try to save money on the cheap, using not fully-tested varieties, or worse buying rejected varieties that have failed in trials across the country and overseas, they will reap the reward of low yield and quality.

We believe that MGA members average better than NIAB results as they benefit from constant up-to-date information on how to grow the best maize crop.

Philip Osborne

Chairman, Maize Growers Association, Priston Mill, Priston, Bath.

Compromise to create habitats

I have read many letters over the past few months on the decline of farmland birds and its causes. It seems to be a continuing game of shifting the blame from one area to another, with no solutions.

As a farm ecologist, I see scientific value in both arguments. Yes, good scientific research has found that landscape change has affected bird and other wildlife numbers (we must not forget that not only birds have declined). Equally, recent research has found that corvids (magpies etc) effect significantly nesting bird success on arable farms.

Unfortunately, landscape changes have benefited magpies etc, as their numbers have increased. Farmland birds and other species require good habitats, for example tall, thick hedges and good grassy field margins, to name two. So controlling magpies on their own will not develop the full wildlife potential of your farm. If you think magpies reduce bird numbers, you are perfectly within your rights to control these birds, but not sparrowhawks. Research has found that sparrowhawks effects on bird populations are minimal as their main prey are great tits, which are not showing significant declines.

We need a sensible approach to reverse these declines; constant bickering will not help. The RSPB should realise that major change in the approach to UK farming is unlikely. Farming, like other industries, cannot remain stagnant; it has to develop. We consumers and conservationists have seen many benefits of an efficient agricultural system. Farmers and the farming industry have to realise that there is a compromise, which creates wildlife habitats and benefits biodiversity.

We all know that farmers want to see wildlife on their farms. Lets show the British public that farmers can be excellent custodians of the countryside. Not by arguing over the declines but by reversing them through creating good, farm-friendly wildlife habitats. Then, we as a nation can celebrate British wildlife and reverse the decline in farmland wildlife.

Simon Dee

9 Eland Way, Cherry Hinton, Cambs.

British wheat not under-sold

Your article Protein measures a hot topic (Arable, May 7), stated incorrectly that a British Cereal Exports document is effectively under-selling UK wheat because of the way protein levels are calculated.

On the contrary, BCE goes to great lengths to ensure all information materials produced for overseas buyers converts wheat protein levels so they are directly comparable with Continental systems in operation.

As visiting millers from Italy, Spain, Portugal, Tunisia and Morocco will find at HGCAs forthcoming breadbaking workshop on May 21, BCE works hard to demonstrate that British wheat can meet overseas requirements.

I would like to reassure your readers that far from underselling British wheat, HGCA – through BCE – is ensuring our cereals are reflected in the best possible light. Reporting comparable protein levels is a key part of this work.

Alan Almond

Director of BCE and BCP, HGCA, Caledonia House, 223 Pentonville Road, London.

Natural immune systems erroded

We frequently read in the farming Press that mastitis, fertility, lameness and other health problems are increasing in all sectors of our industry. Vets give advice which helps to combat individual cases but after talking to dairy, beef, sheep, pig and poultry farmers, the bottom line seems to be that the natural immune systems of our stock have been eroded. It requires building up to improve overall health.

Homoeopathy can help, not only in the above mentioned problems but in many others. Homoeopathic materials are safe to use, simple to administer and, in todays climate, cost effective.

Geoff Derges

18 Weirside Way, Barnstaple, Devon.

Demo and role of Janet George

I buy FW occasionally as its the only way to find the truth about whats happening in UKfarming. I was surprised to read the article (News, Mar 5) about Janet George who "organised one of the biggest peace-time demonstrations London has ever seen". This article seemed to be a piece of journalism not usually found in FW.

Even more surprising was the fact that in the excellent book written by Duff Hart-Davis, When the Country went to Town, Mrs George is mentioned only once; on page 19, as the Press officer of the British Field Sports Society in the early days of organising the march.

Miss JMDavis

26 Crick Court, Southwold, Suffolk.

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