10 September 1999


How hunts dispose of fallen stock

Whatever their views on hunting with hounds, I am sure FW readers will acknowledge the role hunts play in the disposal of fallen stock. As secretary of a pack of foxhounds I recently wrote to MAFF with suggestions to ease the problems the dairy sector, primarily, faces following the end of the calf scheme and querying what would happen to fallen stock in the case of a hunting ban.

MAFFs reply illustrates why we should be so concerned about the present governments attitude to farming and the countryside. It says "we also appreciate your concern at… the increased cost to farmers of disposing of fallen stock by another disposal route". It then goes on to say "…it is for the industry itself to work out how best to dispose of fallen stock and pay the associated costs".

In other words, our government is prepared to bring in a bill, for purely political reasons, which will create additional costs for an industry in its worst crisis for 50 years.

Those additional costs are acknowledged but the government is not even prepared to consider help to allay them when, quite unnecessarily, it will be imposing them.

Since the end of the calf scheme our hunt staff have had the distressing job of humanely destroying hundreds of calves, and one has to ask the question who would have done that if there was no hunting? Obviously this is equally or more distressing for the producers of those calves. The constructive comments I made to MAFF about this have not even been acknowledged.

The guidance notes produced by MAFF at the end of the calf scheme suggested in addition to hunt kennels and knackermen, methods of on-farm human destruction included a shotgun. Whoever wrote that has absolutely no understanding of stockmanship or wider matters. Apart from the safety aspect of using a shotgun in a confined space, the effect of using a shotgun at short range is almost too horrendous to think about. I can see that there might be some producers for whom that is the only option. I offer them my heartfelt sympathy.

It is time our government started listening to us and displaying some understanding of what goes on in the countryside and the farming industry that preserves it.

Edward Leigh-Pemberton

Longcot House, Faringdon, Oxon.

Give calves a value and a life

Over the past two millennia many things have turned full circle. Could that be what is required of dairy farmers today?

We hear pleas for the return of the calf processing scheme, but that is not the answer. How can genuine stockmen bring calves into the world to be immediately destroyed? There are other options. Should they not be looking again to the more traditional dairy breeds, genuine Friesian and Shorthorns, or perhaps some of the newer Continental breeds such as MRI to produce a calf that will make a reasonable beef animal instead of producing more milk in an already oversubscribed market?

Why not revert to dual-purpose animals where the calf, be it a bull or heifer, is of value and will at least have a life.

Jane Smith

Fayre Oaks, Trostrey, Usk, Monmouthshire.

Cost burdens crippling beef

News of young male dairy calves being abandoned in recent weeks following the ending of the calf processing aid scheme received considerable mainstream Press coverage. Reports have sometimes noted that this occurred before a viable market for the animals was present in a post-BSE environment that prevents effective export of the animals for the veal trade on the Continent. Some in-depth articles have even mentioned the increasing cost burdens on farmers from EU passports, ear tags and abattoir costs from hygiene and safety regulations.

These types of costs are increasing for all British livestock farmers, irrespective of animal, because legislation has resulted in production and preparation of a quality product, in conditions that are as humane as anywhere in the world. Although that is to be applauded, the legislation has resulted in high, uncompetitive, cost structures for British produce.

Government support is necessary if traceable, humanely produced beef is to be sold alongside imported beef that is priced to reflect a lower cost structure.

The alternative is for consumers who have demanded, and obtained, new standards of animal rearing and meat processing to consciously support the industries crippled by the additional costs imposed upon them. Consumers have increased the regulatory burden on British meat production but are often guilty of then ignoring its beneficial aspects and purchasing according to price, leaving the full cost burden to fall on the producers.

If this situation does not change the result will be the collapse of British livestock farming, the disappearance of a way of life and increasing consumption of cheap, imported meat regardless of production standards.

James Taylor

Seed House Farm, Potter Lane, Samlesbury, Preston, Lancs.

Organic men – use OMSCO

I hope that dairy farmers in, or considering, organic conversion will ignore the Milk Groups appeal for organic milk supplies. If you plan to produce organic milk then there is only one sensible marketing strategy – via the Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative.

It defies belief if producers have learnt nothing from the lessons of the deregulation years and choose not to stick together.

OMSCO, unlike the early Milk Marque, is a dynamic organisation setting the pace in the market. OMSCO alone has carved out a secure niche in the market for organic milk, and alone has achieved a headline price of 29.5p/litre. The Milk Groups cynical offer of a 0.5p/litre premium above this is no different to the premium over Milk Marque that the Unigates of this world offered to the greedier of us. They successfully divided producers so that the buyers could pull the long-term price down to its current level.

If the Milk Group wants organic milk it should source it through OMSCO. If you intend to produce organic milk then sell it through OMSCO. In marketing terms organic dairy farmers have a second chance. Dont waste it.

John Pitts

Woodhorn Farm, Oving, Chichester, West Sussex.

16p/litre? Lets see you try it

So Roger Metcalfe thinks that we should be able to produce milk at 16p and make a profit (Business, Aug 27). As Roger gets older he will possibly get wiser. In my opinion to work 365 days a year to get so little for milk is as unrealistic as Rogers pencil and paper calculations.

Perhaps some time on a dairy farm, finding income for investment and maintenance out of this 16p, would be beneficial to him. Long-term implications would be financially unviable.

R J Hall

Bellaport Old Hall, Morton-in-Hales, Market Drayton, Shropshire.

Stick to facts, Mr Richardson

David Richardsons comments (Aug 13) that: "…We cannot deny there has been a health problem with British beef which we know passes from animal to animal."

I would like to know what proof he has that there has ever been a health problem with British beef? Also who are the "we" who know it passes from animal to animal?

Perhaps, he could tell us how this happens, as the scientists do not know. If they did there would not be over 2000 cattle placed under restriction, suspected of BSE up to July for this year.

That alone proves the idea of scrapie-affected offal being the cause of BSE was, and still is, a farce. We are suffering from tabloid journalists which David Richardson criticises for stunningly distorting the facts. Without perhaps realising it, he has joined them, with his fiction not facts. I expected better from a farmer.

G Bannister

Lount Farm, Colton, Rugeley, Staffs.

Norfolk farmer has our support

We feel compelled to express our support and sympathy for Norfolk farmer Tony Martin and his family in his time of need following the tragic incident on his farm.

We, as have most farmers and landowners, been subjected to thieving travellers. It does not matter what guise they go under, they are parasites living off the backs of law-abiding citizens.

We have been pressing our MP and NFU to bring the law into question over the wilful trespass onto our land of these people, who are clearly above the law – and we speak from experience.

We need to get the law changed to give all landowners the rights to have any unwanted visitors immediately removed from their land by the police.

In our view Mr Martin is clearly the victim, and although the loss of life is tragic, if these men had not set out to inflict suffering on yet another victim it could have been avoided.

What steps do we have to take to defend our property and our lives? The police say they are treating the threats against Mr Martin seriously, but if they had been more concerned in preventing crime then this situation probably would not have happened.

As usual with the police if you have a bank account and a permanent address you are easy pickings; if you travel around the countryside inflicting misery and financial loss on people then you can get away with it, often, as we have experienced first hand, with police assistance. So fellow farmers, support Tony Martin, it could easily have been one of us.

Richard Beeby

Manor Farm, Old Weston, Huntingdon, Cambs.

Still caution over nitrate

It is regrettable that Mr Monckton (Letters, Aug 13) chooses his facts about nitrate pollution so selectively that he reaches erroneous conclusions.

Overall, the effects of nitrate on human health are sufficiently uncertain for doctors to remain concerned that there should not be an excessive level of nitrate in the diet. They, therefore, continue to support a precautionary approach. Within the EU, that approach is reflected in a legal requirement that drinking water supplies should not exceed a nitrate limit of 50 milligrams/litre. The same limit is used in connection with the designation of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones under the Nitrate Directive.

Denitrification is not the water companies first choice. Apart from other considerations, it is, as Mr Monckton says, an expensive undertaking and is paid for ultimately by consumers. That explains in part why the government is tackling excessive nitrate losses from agriculture through a mixture of advice and regulation. The issues are technically complex and our approach is underpinned by the output of a substantial amount of research and development.

On eutrophication (the over-enrichment of waters leading to undesirable ecological impacts), Mr Monckton ignores the fact that nitrate is normally the controlling nutrient for eutrophication in saline waters – in estuaries, coastal waters and the open sea. Although I acknowledge that is of more concern to our North Sea neighbours, and our areas of concern are much more localised, we cannot afford to be complacent.

Finally, although Mr Monckton is right to identify phosphate (more accurately, phosphorus) as the nutrient responsible for freshwater eutrophication, it should be borne in mind that farming is increasingly seen as a significant source of phosphorus in many river catchments. That is why MAFF is expanding its programme of R&D on phosphorus losses from agriculture and why the Code of Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Water which I launched last year, contains a new section on phosphorus. I would strongly encourage all farmers to follow its guidance in order to reduce the excessive build up of phosphorus in their soils and reduce the risk of losses.

Elliot Morley

Minister for Fisheries & the Countryside, MAFF, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London.

Extra potash is not required

Estimating soil productivity rapidly and at low cost is clearly a benefit to farmers who in the past have used traditional surveying and sampling methods (Arable, Aug 27). Site classification will be an important advance in estimating whether land can be used for increasingly intensive agriculture fit for the production of crops that can compete on a world market.

In his famous book Control of Soil Fertility, Dr George Cooke stated that in intensive agriculture, farmers advisers have a heavy responsibility to give advice that is correct, and that demands experience and scientific backing.

Although it is true that phosphate and potash rates can be adjusted as indices vary across a field the differences in application rate might be quite large. At our current state of knowledge a section of a field registering soil P/K index 0/0 and another section 4/4, the level of nutrients required could vary by up to the equivalent rate of 300kg/ha.

Adjustments of phosphate and potash for different soil types is a desirable objective, but advice based on any such system is currently restricted by lack of adequate experimental evidence. However, the example given in the final paragraph of the article that suggests additional potash is required for clay soils compared to sandy soils is incorrect.

We should take care not to leap too quickly from experimental techniques to offering general advice. It is now accepted that agronomists offering fertiliser advice should be qualified under the BASIS administered Fertiliser Advisers Certification and Training Scheme. Continual update on information and reports on current scientific advances and changes in recommendations are available on registration with FACTS Technical Information Service, Dr Wayne Martindale, Levington, Ipswich IP10 0LU.

Michael Dewhurst

Fieldfare Associates, The Tyning, France Lynch, Stroud, Glos.

Soil scanning claims disputed

The article Electro-magnetic fields give detailed soil maps (Arable, Aug 27) makes a number of claims that I feel are overstated.

First, the article claims that the MagnaScan equipment can map soil types. I assume it is based on electro-magnetic induction technology and measures the electrical conductivity of the soil. Electrical conductivity is influenced by a number of soil physical and chemical properties including soil texture, organic matter, cation exchange capacity, depth to clay, depth to pan, water content and salinity. In addition, the relative influence of any of these factors on electrical conductivity changes in space and time. Therefore, any scan made by this equipment is a representation of the effects rather than the causes of any of the soil physical and chemical factors on the electrical conductivity and it cannot differentiate between these various causes. To translate these results into an informative soil map that is useful to farmers and land managers requires complementary soil information and measurements for their interpretation.

Second, the article states that MagnaScan services are cheaper than soil mapping by the Soil Survey and Land Research Centre. That is not entirely true. In the article a price of £17.30/ha is quoted. SSLRC charges are comparable though based on farm size. They currently start at £24.95/ha for farms under 100ha dropping to £18.95/ha for up to 200ha and to £15.95/ha for up to 300ha with further reductions for larger farms.

Field soil survey depends on the physical in-situ inspection of the soil and can identify the real causes of yield variation in fields rather than scan the undifferentiated effects of soil physical and chemical properties on electrical conductivity. In addition, based on this information, the surveyor is able to provide wide-ranging practical soil management advice to the farmer and in many cases will be able to provide help in the interpretation of yield maps.

Electromagnetic Induction cannot be a replacement for a field soil survey but it can support it by adding the greater spatial detail that is needed for precision farming.

Thomas Mayr

Soil Survey and Land Research Centre, Cranfield University, Silsoe, Beds.

Send cull ewes to quake zone

There are thousands of cull ewes coming off the Welsh hills. Later on there will be more from the Lake District, the north-east and Scotland. They have no value and cost £8/head to dispose of. There was recently a most devastating earthquake in Turkey where poor people are dying of hunger.

During my service life I spent time in the mountains of Turkey and integrated with the local people. I sat down with many of them and enjoyed their food. They kept goats and sheep which they lived off.

So, would it not be possible for our cull ewes to be sent to a central collection point for slaughter, skinning and freezing and sent to our Turkish friends? It would be an easy cargo to transport and would carry the people through the winter.

A headage payment could be made to the hill farmers supplying the sheep and the costs of the operation borne by the government. After all, we have already paid more than £800,000 and further money will be needed.

The scheme would not take very long to set up. There are slaughter houses not being used and transport is readily available. We should also send the fleeces because they make a warm garment. Further support for the scheme should be enlisted from those farmers, like Oliver Walston who have done well out of the CAP.

John Taylor

5 Old Stacks Gardens, Hightown, Ringwood, Hants.

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