22 October 1999


French gall really is the last straw…

The gall of the French to ignore the EUs lifting of the ban on British beef is the final straw. The government must act now to offer positive support to our farmers.

We must give our farmers the opportunity to compete on an equal footing with their European counterparts. Therefore, we must ban all imports of meat, fruit, vegetables and dairy produce from any European country failing to follow the EU directive.

Alternatively, we could impose import taxes on countries that ban our goods. This would also help to contain the greed of the supermarkets and give our farmers the chance to compete fairly in the market place.

I believe that most people would be happy to buy British produce provided it is offered at a competitive rate. We now have the opportunity to expose the inequalities imposed on British farmers by their European counterparts.

Roger Thomas

Conservative councillor, Garfield, Woods Corner, Dallington, Heathfield, East Sussex.

Time for young to step forward

I recently attended an NFU meeting on the farming crisis. As a new entrant in the dairy sector, I went armed with ideas and possibilities as I assumed the meeting would form a strategy to hopefully improve prices we receive for our goods.

My speech was positive on ways in which the situation could be improved but to my amazement only part way through a farmer interrupted with some negative comments. I resumed the speech but soon after that the chairman stopped me abruptly claiming it had all been done before. Undeterred, I turned to the farmer audience asking them, "do you believe if we all stopped selling direct and joined co-ops we could regain control of market prices? Also, do you want to join together to regain control?" The silence that followed made me shrink to the size of a pea and shut up. Why would the NFU and the farmers not support my comments, are they that scared?

The whole basis of my speech was to form an action group independent of all existing organisations. The group has two goals, to educate the public and to unite farmers. It is not concerned with politics or marketing; solely to stabilise the market at a level that farmers can make a profit.

Following the meeting I received comments from young farmers like myself who feel the older generation will not listen to us. We are the future with the enthusiasm to make a difference. Meanwhile, some farmers, with all their assets and investments, simply want to retire or bury their heads in the sand.

Anyone with the enthusiasm and drive like myself should contact me before its too late.

Andrew Fuller

Nantend Farm, Nantend, Stonehouse, Glos.

Young farmers promote British

I read with interest the letter (Sept 24) Stand up and defend farming. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Young Farmers are a group of young people who have held a county show for the second year at Wimpole Home Farm, near Royston.

They are run like a traditional county show and had the theme of British food and farming. Our members are keen to support the industry which has helped us so much over the years and, we hope, will still provide a future for young people.

The show included a food hall and areas to display produce to the public and heighten their awareness of farming. The event was a success but we felt we were banging our heads against a brick wall. With a few exceptions, many local producers and national firms, such as British Sugar, did not want to help.

We are trying to get the message across to buy British and give farming a future – if only the farming industry and food producers would do more to help. We would welcome any help with next years Cambridgeshire YFC county show on Sun, June 4.

Richard Burton

Cambridge county show chairman, Eversden Cottage, Church Road, Easton, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.

Turncoat Blair being divisive

Mr Blair has turned his coat once again: So he is not against fishing and shooting, just hunting. He took on the job of Prime Minister to look after all of us and not to antagonise some. In setting people against each other he is being deliberately divisive. Most townspeople do not care what is going on provided it does not affect them.

I do not hunt, but I would never stop others. I know all about it because as a child I hunted on horseback. In our area a foot pack operates. In both cases the huntsman shoots the fox when it is cornered and he throws it to the hounds. It is rare for hounds to kill and in that case it is a quick death. The fox is no more terrified than the lions, tigers and leopards that entertain on TV.

Since this is supposed to be a free country we should let people choose how they live. What is really cruel is crating up city foxes and dumping them six together on the open hill to fend for themselves. There are no dustbins, rabbit hutches or chicken coops for easy meals. Some of them end up in farmyards but their freedom is short-lived because they are soon shot.

Tricia Jacks

Neuaddfach, Cwmdauddwr, Rhayader.

Threat to NFU democracy

As an old NFU hand, albeit at low levels, I am amazed to see the equanimity which the industry is displaying as the democratic structure of the NFU is in danger of being obliterated by "reforms".

It is one thing to hand over branch properties and other assets to NFU headquarters in the name of efficiency. But it is another to be told that branches will have to be called groups which will consist of a chairman and vice-chairman, and one or two more who will presumably be co-opted. How will the chairman and vice-chairman be selected? Will they then hold the positions for life in a self-perpetuating autocracy?

At my own Penrith branch meeting last week, I was deputed to express these concerns to the county executive meeting the following night. All these reforms, I said, were supposed to stem from a decision taken at the unions last annual general meeting. I have no recollection that our delegates were delegated to rip up the unions democratic constitution to this extent and to substitute one far more autocratic. In any case, the agm now seems to be more of a stage-managed show than the Labour Party conference.

My remarks were greeted by a warmth that indicates that I am far from alone in these anxieties. Is there not still time to reverse these totalitarian trends?

Malcolm Kidd

North Bank Farm, Lazonby, Penrith, Cumbria.

Yields in doubt are achievable

Readers no doubt enjoy debating the relative value of autumn grass and the points made at the recent MDC Focus Centre event at RAC were designed to stimulate this. Your correspondents (Letters, Sept 24) from CEDAR suggest that milk yields of 45kg a day from cows receiving only 7kg concentrates is unbelievable. But some cows at RAC are achieving this and this autumn we have had cows in the Kingshay project on supplementary feeding at grass sustaining yields of more than 40 litres a day on just 6kg of concentrates.

In addition, CEDAR staff also suggest that intakes of 20kg DM a day from autumn grass is impossible which it probably is if your grazing management is poor. However, high yielding cows grazing tall, dense, leafy swards will readily consume the 108kg fresh weight necessary to achieve a 20kg DM intake at 18.5% grass DM. Far from giving this work a wide berth, we believe that dairy farmers, who are dependant on todays low milk prices to cover their costs, would welcome the opportunity to learn more about the potential of autumn grazed grass, rather than have to feed ensiled material at double the cost.

It is sad that David Beever chooses to select as his support the work of the late Sir Kenneth Blaxter working in the 1970s with cows and forages that were different from their modern counterparts. UK dairy farmers need the information to meet todays challenges, using todays improved forage and livestock genetic material and todays grassland management techniques. We believe that the issues we are addressing are exactly those required by dairy farmers trying to make a profit in todays economic climate and that MDC has invested its money wisely.

Nigel Young

Technical director, Kingshay Farming Trust. Dr John AllistonDean of the faculty of agriculture, Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, Glos.

Park plan risk to South Downs

The prospect of The South Downs being granted national park status is again being resurrected despite advice to the contrary from local residents, affected farmers and their democratic representatives and the Countryside Agency. The government would be responsible for irreversible damage to the relatively fragile ecology and geology of the area if they are swayed by influential minority opinion. The chalk rocks and thin soils of the Downs cannot be compared with the enduring igneous and metamorphic foundations of the National Parks of the north and west country.

John Jenkin

Agricultural consultant, 5B South Cliff Tower, Meads, Eastbourne, East Sussex. E-mail:

BSE theory far from irrefutable

If David Richardson believes that "the evidence is irrefutable that BSE has passed from one animal (cow to another via meat and bone meal" (Letters, Sept 24), then he must be using a vocabulary alien to myself and most south west cattle farmers who support the OP mutagenesis BSE theory.

According to my dictionary, "irrefutable" is defined as "that which cannot be refuted or disproved". With BSE and supposedly "infected feed", the only way that such a definition can be perceived to be appropriate is if you bury your head ostrich-fashion and wilt in the face of overpowering media humbug.

Blinkered media repetition of a glaringly flawed theory concerning feed has obscured the publics perception of the alternative view. The alternative assessment of the evidence provides the image of the copper variant OP teratogenesis/mutagenesis theory, the more complex variant of the theory presented by Mark Purdey.

Writing in favour of the BSE/nv CJD link via feed consumption, David Richardson and others have been instrumental in perpetuating the anthrax-like myth which has so decimated the UK cattle industry. Absolution for British beef will arise only with the destruction of this doomladen myth.

Rob Taylor

Home Farm, Littleton-on-Severn, Nr Bristol.

Bigger better in dairy trade

I read with interest your article "A century of change," in the Dairy Event supplement (Sept 17). How different would things have been without quotas? Perhaps it is not the introduction of quotas but the way they were interpreted.

Without quotas we would have developed a more efficient dairy industry with larger herds. Producers who have hung on only to fall by the wayside would have fallen several years ago. And it would have been the inefficient who had fallen. Entrepreneurial youngsters would have gained the first rung of the ladder and gone on to create efficient dairy units to rival our efficient arable units.

Without quotas our dairy industry would have larger units, as in America, with economies of scale and the ability to produce milk cheaper than anyone else in Europe.

Many of us efficient producers cant see how to survive without growing bigger. In fact, we cant afford to grow big enough to maintain our lead over the rest of Europe as we can in the arable sector.

When the EU is enlarged we will face competition from the larger units of eastern Europe. Communism dealt them an ace card. Adopting our efficient management systems would allow these larger units to become the lowest cost EU producers. I know because I have been involved in transforming large Polish herds from 3500 to 7500 litres over two lactations.

Quotas not only kept herd sizes down but kept yields down too. The only way to keep costs down is to increase yields. At least with the recent drop in milk prices people have realised this, sadly 15 years too late.

If readers want to increase their herd yields they should come to our herd dispersal sale (Nov 9) at the Sowley Estate near Beaulieu, where they will be able to take advantage of good commercial breeding in a pedigree herd originally founded by the Showerings before the era of quotas.

Mark &#42 Lewis

77/78 Standing Hill, West Tytherley, Salisbury, Wilts.

Horsetail toxic, mares tail not

I have been following with interest the correspondence about equisetum species variously referred to as horsetail or mares tail. There is a possibility of confusion as these names do refer to different plants.

Equisetum species are properly known as horsetails and there are a number of different species. These are differentiated in part by the number of stem grooves and colour of the sheath teeth with E arvense (common horsetail) and E palustre (marsh horsetail) being the most widespread. All species are primitive perennial non-flowering plants with erect stems but no leaves. They reproduce by spores in a similar way to bracken to which they are related. They have an extensive creeping root system and are always found in or near water although this is sometimes at depth below quite free draining sandy or gravelly top soil.

The poisonous nature of horsetails to stock is well stated by Peter W Briston and JA Collett (Letters, Sept 24) and in MAFF Bulletin 161. The latter not only points out the reduction in milk yield from dairy cows but also the tainting of milk, butter and cheese. The similarity to poisoning with bracken, particularly in horses, is also noted.

Nevertheless, Equisetum arvense is listed amongst medicinal plants for humans as horsetail or bottlebrush. In the Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants by Andrew Chevallier published by Dorling Kindersley in 1996, the various benefits mentioned by Lesley Burnett (Letters, Sept 24) are itemised. However, there are two warnings; E palustre must not be used at all as it contains toxic alkaloids and E arvense must not be used for more than six weeks except under professional supervision as it may cause irritation of the digestive tract.

The plant properly called mares tail (Hippuris vulgaris) is an unbranched perennial flowering plant found largely submerged in streams which bears a superficial resemblance to horsetail. It does not seem to have any poisonous or medicinal properties.

Colin Dibb

Grass and maize consultant, 106 Park Lane, Tilehurst, Reading, Berks.

They are two unrelated plants

Just to add my comments to those expressed about mares tail (Letters, Sept 24). Horsetail and mares tail are two quite unrelated plants which both like moisture, mares tail especially as it grows more or less submerged, whereas horsetail grows fully on land usually on clayey banks or wet meadows by streams.

Mares tail is a true flowering plant hippuris vugaris, a member of the milfoils (haloragaceae), whereas horsetail is a relic of a much more archaic group, by several hundred million years. Carboniferous members of these equisetales were much grander scale, and formed most of the coal fields (remember them?)

Mares tail, because it grows in ponds and slow-moving streams, is not likely to be eaten by stock except in severe droughts, and is not poisonous. Horesetails are a different kettle of fish, as your other letters reveal, so beware!

Martin Paine

Easter Ridge Farm, Cadeleigh, Tiverton, Devon.

Maize variety yield figures

Thanks to John Hardy for once again highlighting the yield differences between the maize varieties Nancis and LG 21.85 (Letters, Sept 24). He complains that NIABs Jim McVittie has previously overstated this difference (Livestock, Aug 20), at 25% rather than 20%. Well even so, it means that farmers growing LG 21.85 will have a fifth more silage in their clamp from each hectare grown, allowing them either to increase inclusion rates or to feed it for longer.

With regards to LG 21.85 being classed as a second choice variety on the new NIAB List, we would say this is down to interpretation of the data from NIABs trials. We believe that ranking in terms of maturity, is not relevant as long as the variety reaches 28% DM within the harvest window. Indeed, if they were ranked in dry matter yield, a more pertinent feature in times of low returns, LG 21.85 would come out top.

Mr Hardy implies that LG 21.85 has a far inferior energy value to Nancis – yet the difference in ME is only 0.2%. NIAB states that differences of 0.3% or less, should be treated with reserve – and certainly such a small amount would make little difference in practical feeding terms.

Essentially all the maize varieties on the list, be they early, medium or late-maturing, have similar ME values. To tell farmers they must grow early varieties to maximise energy output, from large starchy cobs, is clearly flawed. Energy does in fact come from the whole plant – from soluble and structural sugars in the stems and leaves, as well as the cob.

All that growers in the main maize areas will do by growing early varieties, is sacrifice yield. And, with costs of production relatively fixed, increasing yield offers the only opportunity to reduce forage costs.

Peter Schofield

Maize marketing manager, Nickerson (UK), Rothwell, Market Rasen, Lincs.

Standing up for AG Street

I am fed up with the things written about AG Street. Take the letter (Sept 17) from Mr Hopkins for example. I dont suppose he ever met AG Street. How did Mr Street harvest thousands of tonnes of corn, from 400 odd acres?

It is true he gave up a farm when things were not doing well and started a milk round on an all-grass farm.

I was sent by my father, who was a great friend of Mr Street, to learn all about field milking. My father was not a milk producer, but my grandfather, who farmed near Stratford on Avon was, and took to field milking, like a duck to water, and saved a lot of money.

Not only did I work with, but I have all Mr Streets books which he gave my father. Farming in the 30s was hard. Todays farmers dont know what the bread line is.

B W E Heyden

"Heycart", 22 Falcon Close, Eagle, Nr Lincoln.

Time for justice to be done

I write regarding Jim Adams request (Letters, Sept 17) for information about dispossessed farmers during World War II.

My family of Norfolk farmers were dispossessed during this time and have never received a penny in any form of compensation. It ruined their lives and livelihood. Is it not about time that something was done? A group should be formed to press the government to acknowledge what amounted to nationalised theft of land and request reimbursement via the EU if necessary.

Farmers in general seem to be regarded as an inferior race by this government and its time for monetary recompense to right the wrongs of the past.

John Stubbs

30 Goldcrest Road, Ipswich, Suffolk.

Dont let local ploughing die

Please, through farmers weekly, can I appeal to farmers to support their local ploughing society? Im writing this letter because the threat of a shortage of members could spell the end of a great society on the Llyn Peninsula; the Sarn ar Cylch (Sarn and Circle). Times are hard but please dont neglect your ploughing society.

Dont leave it to nostalgia. Plant the seeds of interest in the young who are the next generation of ploughmasters. Its a way to bring a community together to show this craft and pride we have in the land.

Machinery manufacturers and dealers should support the ploughing societies. After all, its farmers like us who support such organisations.

Im 25 and live on a farm and would like to know all there is to know about ploughing but find it difficult with the closure of our ploughing society. Please act soon or, like many country ways, it will go the way of the dinosaurs.

T Parry

Felin, Llannor, Pwllheli, Gwynedd.

Claims dont bear scrutiny

After being in the agricultural lime business for more than 35 years, it was with interest that I read carefully your articles on G Lime (Opinion and Arable, Oct 1).

It didnt take too long to realise that many claims did not stand up to closer scrutiny. Bill Brogden states that conventionally produced lime usually has only 20% passing through a 100 mic. We market a 52% NV material of soft residue with 36% passing through a 150 mic and 30% a 75 mic. The remainder would be released over a two to five year period.

This alters completely his price comparison claims and makes G lime look like a luxury product.

Maurice Folley

Managing director, Midland Lime, 22 New Street, Earls Barton, Northants.

Metal detecting fans seek farm

Recently, I heard about a farmer who allowed a group of metal detecting enthusiasts to search his land for a small fee which was paid to a local childrens hospice. As a member of a metal detecting club I am appealing to farmers in Cheshire, Shropshire and Wales who would permit our club to conduct a Sunday Search. A fee would be paid to themselves or their favourite charity. Usually, about 20 of us gather for a search.

We are fully insured and adhere to the country code of practice. If anyone can help please contact me on 01691-718878.

Mr D W Jacques

2 Berwyn Mill, New Road, Glyn Ceiriog, Llangollen.

Not afraid of long term deal

Your comment (Sept 24) about the fact that cider makers are prepared to enter long term contracts with producers and that maltsters are not, is inaccurate.

Both maltsters and brewers are prepared to offer longer term contracts with suppliers. It is often the case that suppliers are prepared to enter such agreements only when it suits them and when it is their exclusive advantage.

Long term supply contracts must exist to the mutual benefit of all parties involved. In the maltsters case their market sale price is dependent on the vagaries of supply and demand, as is their raw material purchase price. But by offering contracts, suppliers can link themselves to domestic demand and benefit from supply chain management agreements which are commonplace in other industries.

Jonathan Arnold

Robin Appel Ltd, Church Court, Clewers Hill, Waltham Chase, Hampshire.

Removing wool from your eyes

In a letter "Where has all the wool gone?" (Sept 17) L C Herbert deplores the fact that he/she is no longer able to buy woollen socks and knitting yarn and asks what the Wool Marketing Board is doing to promote and sell wool.

It is incumbent on the BWMB to explain to your correspondent, and other readers, that it is selling wool. The volume sold last season (more than 52m kg) was the second highest amount ever achieved and already an unprecedented 33% of this years clip has been sold.

Because of its coarse, resilient and hard-wearing characteristics, more than 70% of the clip is used by the UK carpet industry and in other parts of Europe. Here in Britain, 44 manufacturers use British Wool in about 300 ranges and the BWMB is actively working with these companies on promotion. Our new carpet brochure was published last month in two home interest magazines, and will appear in three other titles over the next six months, with an estimated readership of over 1.5 million.

Sadly, the demise of wool in apparel, and this never was a major use for British Wool, is due mainly to public demand for lighter weight products which are soft to handle and easily laundered. That is despite the vast sums spent on promotion by the Woolmark Company which promotes apparel wools.

Liz Ambler

Press & public relations manager, British Wool Marketing Board, Wool House, Roydsdale Way, Euroway Trading Estate, Bradford.

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