13 August 1999


No future for malting barley…

I met, in the farm lane, an old boy back from a long spell overseas who asked me why there were no longer fields of malting barley in East Anglia.

I answered that at the turn of the century the brewers/maltsters had played fast and loose for too long with farmers and offered only derisory premiums over feed barley. The crop now had all but died out and you had to cross the North Sea to still see fields of malting barley.

The year is 2004. Unless the UK brewing industry wakes up fast that will be the crops destiny.

T D Maufe

Branthill Farms, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.

Farms carrying the deadwood

How many are we carrying? Farmers are under the impression that they have cut staffing levels. No. Farmers are still paying the wages of deadweight officials but are not enjoying the benefit of their labour.

Farms remain vastly over-staffed with this dead weight. They are returning to the farm in ever-increasing numbers to hinder and harass.

A E Searby

Mayfields, Croft, Wainfleet, Lincs.

Country folk come up trumps

I read in our daily newspaper that when attending Ryedale Show, junior farm minister Elliot Morley stated that two-thirds of people who live in the countryside are opposed to hunting with dogs and he is probably right. That number (including Mr Morley) do not understand the countryside and how conservation, farming and field sports all play their part in our beautiful landscape which has been looked after by true country folk for generations.

Trees and hedges are planted by farmers to preserve the correct habitat for wildlife. Yes, there was a time when hedges were pulled out but that was government policy to provide more food for our ever-growing population.

When it comes to supporting activities and raising funds to keep ancient churches and rural communities alive, it becomes difficult to get the two-thirds to participate. Either they are on holiday or have some other excuse. But you can always rely on the genuine country folk.

Mrs Mary Hunter

Abbey Garth Farm, Swinefleet, Hull, East Yorks.

China all set to run the market

I was impressed by Michael Seals conclusions (Talking Point, July 23) rejecting any surrender of our economic independence to the European economy.

The 21st century will see the economic development of China and the Pacific Rim nations dominating world markets including agricultural ones. Chinas pump is now well primed and is struggling to catch up 300 years across her whole empire. With almost limitless cheap labour, China supplies light engineering goods to American companies for dollars and buys in softer currencies including European ones. About 4000t of peas grown and processed in Norfolk went to China through Hong Kong last year.

Meanwhile, the last thing we want is to get bogged down by closer links with ageing protectionist European economies. As ever, only a blue water policy can enable Britain to thrive.

Lord Walsingham

The Hassocks, Merton, Thetford, Norfolk.

Cattle TB back to 60s level

Since leaving the government TB Panel in 1992, my warnings of the rise in TB have come true. Britains TB scheme, based on systematically testing all cattle annually and restricting movement of stock into TB-free areas was a success.

It reduced TB from affecting 40% of cattle to about 1% by 1960 when the country became attested. The downward impetus carried on until a low point in 1979, with only 628 cases of TB in 89 herds (two-thirds in south-west intensive dairying area). Sadly, the opportunity to eradicate TB was not seized. It would have been fairly easy to depopulate the tiny remaining pockets of TB herds. Since then, TB has escaped from containment because fewer cattle were tested; only 2m out of 11m annually, and greater stock movement was allowed. Also 3-4 year test intervals from 1993 allowed bad breakdowns to build up. Scrapping the calf processing scheme is ill-advised, since it may lead to yet more untested calves being distributed around the country; a minority taking TB with them to start new herd clusters.

In the dairy industry debate, Nick Brown admitted that disruption of the Krebs cull by animal activists and some farmers may make it unworkable. And governments reply to the agriculture committee admitted that the role of the badger in cattle TB has been unquantifiable for the past 30 years. The 90% of cases "due to badgers" are hence merely cases where badgers with TB have simply caught it from the preceding herd breakdown. So much for the overwhelming scientific link.

Cattle TB is now back to the 1960s level with 6000 cases in more than 700 herds last year. So the long, area-by-area, test/trace/removal of TB reactor cattle will have to be done again. Scrapping the badger cull would release £30m for urgent cattle testing and perhaps cattle passports.

M Hancox

17 Nouncells Cross, Stroud, Glos.

Pull together on pig research

Pioneering farmers have produced novel practical solutions for generations. CAMBAC Research is progressing the fine work by Clare Beacroft and Ian Chorlton with their high welfare farrowing systems by comparing six farrowing systems under commercial but carefully controlled conditions.

How sad Jeremy Marchant (Letters, July 23) chooses to detract from this fine effort from his ivory tower in Vancouver, Canada, with his snide allusions to statistical ability. Please work with us Jeremy. If you can help improve the project tell us. We are using industry funds so we must work together for the best possible result.

Those of us needing farrowing houses now deserve practical guidance. Does this come from Dr Marchants work over the past 10 years? Not yet, according to my neighbours with the newest farrowing houses.

Pig farmers must nurture their scientists but lets also temper their patronising arrogance towards our on-farm work. We need practical basic and strategic research. My concern is that they should go on together in time to ensure that the threatened legislation is based on sound science.

Fraser Hart

Glebe Farm, Hatherop, Cirencester, Glos.

Farrowing work is needed

I couldnt help but agree with Dr Jeremy Marchant (Letters, Jul 23). We do need to ensure that research money is spent wisely. As a contributor to the farrowing system research using our own cash, I have a vested interest. My worries, however, have a different slant. We appreciate the complexities of arguments regarding the farrowing crate and the unusual demands of the UK market. That is why we need good research data.

We do not know that the use of slatted floor farrowing crates is less welfare friendly than some of the other proposals put up for test at CAMBAC. All farming is about compromise and pig keeping is no exception. Perhaps the separation of the pig from its faeces and urine at an early stage is beneficial. Quality data comparing restriction versus free movement of the sow for the benefit of the piglets in commercial systems is unavailable.

The move into farrowing crates was hailed as a great step forward when it was made about 40 years ago and is still standard practice for world pig keeping. My concern relates to the prejudicial views expressed by the other funding partners of this project. When attending the opening of this project junior farm minister Elliot Morley praised the way we would be showing the world how to improve farrowing by changing to more welfare friendly systems. The RSPCA also used the launch to announce that it would not allow farrowing crates for new entrants on their Freedom Foods Scheme. That is putting the cart before the horse.

If, as Dr Marchant chides, there is a problem with scientific rigour it is not in this case the fault of CAMBAC. The problem comes with the over enthusiastic interpretation of results which we still do not possess.

Hopefully, experiments will be able to put some numbers to the costs and benefit of various systems so that future discussions can be objectively rather than emotionally based.

J T Black

Red House Farm, Bacton, Stowmarket, Suffolk.

Welfarism puts pressure on pigs

I was dismayed to read that pig welfare is high on the agenda again. UK pig production systems are the highest welfare systems in the world. A world slump in pig prices due to over-production and the competitive disadvantage welfare puts UK producers under, means that this country, though only 75% self-sufficient in pig products, has seen the largest contraction of its national herd.

So-called welfare groups such as CIWF and RSPCA should remember that their sphere of influence is within this small country only. Driving more UK producers out of business with ill-conceived welfare legislation will lead to the end of the cash gravy train. When hassling members of the public for donations for their "good causes", these hypocritical (but now well heeled) people should think that if they want high welfare production, they should join pig farmers in lobbying government to ensure that our standards are matched by imported products.

Once that has been achieved, the industry can move forward and integrate the latest scientific advice on welfare into its system. These people would also do well to realise that capital investment can be achieved only through profit. The tight margins associated with pig production leave no margin for error in system design. As a pig farmer I am saddened to see that welfare is now being compromised on many farms due to worn out systems rather than poor systems.

My thanks, and that of most of the industry, goes to the voice of scientific reason that Dr Marchant (Letters, July 23) presents in his comments on current systems and prospective new ones. Pressure groups could do worse than to review his papers before passing comment on the industrys methods.

Ian Johnson

Seven Acres, Newbourne Road, Martlesham, Woodbridge.

Rural dwellers must fight hard

Your item on outdoor pigs (News, Jul 30) demonstrates the contradictory policies followed by bodies like the Countryside Agency.

Consumers want to eat outdoor-reared pork, so farmers farm by this method which also satisfies the animal rights lobby. Then another lobby comes along and says that its despoiling the countryside.

The same applies to plastics, which enable hard-hit farmers to make a small profit in difficult times and enables crops to be harvested earlier, again satisfying the consumer. Most plastics are on the ground only for a maximum of six weeks and are then removed and destroyed or recycled.

Official agencies and do-gooders want farmers to work in unprofitable conditions which will inevitably mean they will go out of business. That will mean that the hordes from the towns can build their houses in the countryside and spoil the landscape even more. Alternatively, those in the towns could move to the countryside and overwhelm the existing country population and destroy country life that way.

Country-dwellers are entitled to their way of life and will have to fight to retain it. They have a lot of enemies out there.

Edward Liddell

72 Swanland Road, Hessle, East Yorks.

Deny scientists right to meddle

It is beginning to dawn in the public mind that, having survived Nostradamus dire predictions for the ending of the world, we may fall victim to the prediction of Karl Marx. That is it will take illegal action to prevent the multinational corporations from inflicting damage to the planet and to the health of our children.

In the debate about genetic engineering of food, there is continuous recourse to the evidence of science as the deciding factor. It is worth remembering that Albert Einstein made the following remark: "One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science measured against reality is primitive and childlike."

It has been the grand pretence of modern science that existence is fully comprehensible to the human mind.

Hardly surprising, then, this present confusion of the ability to tamper with nature, with having the complete knowledge of reality to warrant such acts of vandalism.

It is not scientific to assert, as scientists do, that nature is the product of chance chemical reaction, and consciousness the by-product. A new science is being developed which recognises consciousness as being primary in nature. In this ordered universe, what scientist could claim the right to meddle, and what businessman can claim the right of might by financial clout?

Science knows as much about the universal questions as a lonely gnat skating on the surface of the mid-Atlantic can accurately report on the contours of the oceanic floor.

It may be of value to the likes of Monsanto, to recall that the French Revolution began with a man, an axe, and a rabble who marched on the Palace of Versailles. The rabble was made up mostly of distraught mothers who would not forgive the fouling of their childrens food supply.

Giles Maynard

Chairman, Dilston Press Ltd, Cowick Farm, Hilmarton, Calne Wilts.

Farmer capital commitment

Your report (News, July 23) of farm minister Nick Browns message at the Royal Welsh Show underlined a disgraceful attitude towards British dairy farmers. He said the trade had to be paid for their work and to get a return on the capital they put in. But milk producers have to get a "fair" price.

Farmers have far more capital invested than the trade and need the same return on it. Until this argument is accepted by politicians, farmers will never be paid properly.

J D Bridge

Friarsthorne Farm, Burnham Market, Norfolk.

Hybrid gene implant is a con

As a farmer with more experience than Henry Fell (Talking Point, June 11 and Letters, July 23) – I started farming two years before him – I say he missed a crucial aspect about GMOs. They have a nasty side which the promoters keep quiet about. They add a totally unnecessary hybrid gene.

In nature, a hybrid is a false cross. It cannot breed and, therefore, becomes extinct. We hear a great deal about the ethical GMO genes which provide benefit and could occur naturally. But nothing about the repeat hybrids. They do not occur naturally, cant benefit Western consumers because the market is already flooded, and only add to growers costs.

Farmers like Henry (albeit with less experience) are attracted by higher yields, which they do benefit from initially, without realising that all other growers will have to follow suit, or accept lower returns. But as more total tonnage is produced, so the WTO penalty increases. So they all finish up getting no more for the crop, but having to buy new seed every year. Meanwhile, GMO promoters no longer get the full first use royalty plus the farm-saved seed rate. They get the full royalty every year and sell all the seed.

The hybrid implant is nothing but a big con. It does not even help the starving millions in the under-developed world, where the problems are too much corruption and not enough education. But peasant farmers are more easily fooled.

George Scales

Cobblers Pieces, Abbess Roding, Ongar, Essex.

In defence of vets charges

I write in response to your article "Medicine mark-up concern," (Livestock, June 18).

The article rightly highlights the illegality of importing medicines and using them without veterinary prescription and the incompatibility of such use with quality assurance schemes.

I have been told that medicines are priced according to what the market will bear and that because Eire is an historically poor country, its medicines are cheaper. How much poorer has UK livestock farming to become before prices fall?

A vets bill should be seen in its entirety – a combination of services and drugs. Veterinary surgeons carry heavy responsibilities towards the animals under their care. Unlike suppliers of pharmaceutical merchants list products, vets are on duty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to tend to the welfare of patients. Technical advances, bureaucracy and employment standards make modern veterinary practice expensive, and charges for our services do not cover costs, let alone leave profit. It is essential that we take margin off drugs to survive to serve our clients.

I dispute Roger Cooks assertion that our mark-ups are massive. Charges for our services would have to rise by several times to make up for margins on drugs. Would such a pricing structure put farmers off calling the vet to the detriment of stock welfare?

Farm vets recognise the severe problems in livestock farming, but if we offered free drugs it would make next to no difference to farm profits and would quickly drive us out of business.

I am grieved at the disparity between farmers returns and what we pay for produce. I am angered by the hypocrisy of retailers demanding quality assurance while marketing imported products from lower welfare systems.

Our common goal must be to restore long-term profitability to livestock farming so that there can be a mutually beneficial relationship between vets and clients with welfare friendly production properly viable.

Neil M Howie

Nantwich Veterinary Group, Crewe Road End, Nantwich, Cheshire.

Why isnt ID tagging normal?

Following a MAFF visit to check a group of 40 cattles ear-tags, we discovered 11% of the tags were missing and had to be replaced at a cost of nearly £50 plus the labour cost of retagging. While the MAFF official was on the farm we discussed ID chips and he mentioned that when MAFF was evaluating tagging, it had details of a company that could supply the ID chips and apply for the passports (prior to the £7 charge) for a total cost of £3 a head.

But as the rules stand, even if ID chips were fitted, the ear tags would still be required so no advantage would be gained. Given problems in the beef industry, surely any option to save costs and to improve animal welfare should be grasped with both hands. If ID chips could be fitted as an alternative to the ear tags then cattle would no longer have to be retagged into torn ears.

ID chips are permanent and tamper-proof; management tags could still be used if desired. There would be an initial cost to purchase an ID chip reader, but at the rate our cattle seem to be losing tags that cost would soon be covered. Can anyone explain why we have this ludicrous situation at present? ID chipping has to be the way forward and tagging should be optional.

M Burfitt

OP negligence was remarkable

Your correspondent Geoffrey Hollis (Letters, July 30) accuses me of "scaremongering of the worst sort" in my description of the dangers of organophosphate sheep dips. I will leave it to the authors of the IOM study to respond to his critique of their work, but his accusations cannot go unanswered.

He points the finger of blame for copious ill health at the sheep farmers themselves, and absolves both government and OP manufacturers. Clearly, this cannot be the same Geoffrey Hollis who occupied a senior position in MAFF, the government department that failed to warn farmers of the potentially dangerous nature of these substances for 40 years.

From the first official indications of their toxicity by the Zuckerman Committee in 1951 to the early 1990s, MAFF never gave adequate advice on protection from or likely symptoms of OP exposure.

It was only when we started to question the availability of such advice in 1992 that ministers (a) ended the compulsory dipping scheme and (b) started upgrading the level of protection recommended.

That negligence was all the more remarkable in that the Health and Safety Executive had prepared detailed notes on the severity of the health problems caused by these poisons 10 years previously. Amazingly, this information was only made available to those who worked in the manufacturing of OPs.

The other Mr Hollis and his colleagues never ensured that sheep farmers and farm workers – let alone their GPs – saw this advice. It is perfectly true that farmers are now recommended to wear impractical spacesuits when dipping sheep. But the precautionary principle is still not applied, and all the latest evidence is that both MAFF and the manufacturers are trying to evade responsibility for years of neglect.

In local government, councillors and officials can be surcharged for negligence. Many of those who suffered during the period of official MAFF complacency may regret that the same principle does not apply to central government.

I wonder whether the two Mr Hollises are by any chance related?

Paul Tyler

Chairman, All Party OP Group, House of Commons, London.

NVZ ruling supported govt

I write concerning misleading comments contained in your report (News, July 16) about the ruling of the European Court of Justice on judicial review proceedings brought by East Anglian farmers, against two nitrate vulnerable zone designations.

You implied that farmers were successful in their challenge to the court of justice. In fact, the courts ruling, delivered on 29 April 1999, supported fully the governments position in these proceedings.

The ruling concurred with the UKs interpretation of the EC nitrate directive (under which NVZ designations are made), and its approach to identifying waters affected by nitrate, where agricultural sources make a "significant contribution". Agriculture has been identified as a significant source of nitrate pollution in all NVZs, and designations have been made on this basis.

The court also ruled that the provisions of the directive did respect the principles of proportionality, the polluter pays, and rectifying pollution at source.

The Environment Agency is responsible for enforcing the action programme measures and is currently visiting NVZ farms to advise farmers on these measures and to assess compliance.

It is encountering farmers in East Anglia who believe that the court ruling went in their favour. This confusion is not conducive to a smooth and effective introduction of the action programme.

Robin Chatterjee

NVZ manager, Environment Agency, Kingfisher House, Goldhay Way, Orton Goldhay, Peterborough.

Minister is talking tosh

Poor junior farm minister Elliot Morley. After opening a conference in June about reducing pollution from agriculture, no one had told him he was talking tosh.

Mr Morley said "…increasing levels of nitrates in our water system have led to concerns about the possible affects on drinking water and public health. At the same time there is a risk of eutrophication." He went on about "…our belief in basing action on sound science".

There were concerns once; but not now for those who base their opinions on sound science. Nitrates at natural level (about 5.5 mg/litre) or much higher (up to at least 100mg/litre) are safe. They cause no health danger.

Nitrates below natural level can be dangerous to health, according to research at Aberdeen.

Do nitrates cause eutropication? No. Irish research shows phosphate to be the cause.

When nitrates are removed (expensively) from water, it is called denitrification. That impairs water quality and may create a health hazard. Denitrification exchanges nitrates for chloride, which makes the water taste worse and become more corrosive.

In several water areas, this chloride attacks lead piping; and dissolved lead is truly toxic. Increasing the proportion of chloride in the water makes this problem acute. They dose it with phosphate to avoid the lead being dissolved. And what causes eutrophication? Phosphate.

Mr Morley should learn his subject, sack his useless advisers and help us.

Alan Monckton

The Estate Office, Stretton Hall, Stafford.

Farmers Weekly Awards 2021

Enter or nominate today
See more