17 December 1999


How mental illness hurt a family

David Richardson (Nov 19) talks about farmers sinking into despondency and suffering mental stress.

I have suffered from a personality disorder which caused great distress to my family. My wife and two sons bore the brunt of my mental illness. I become so unbearable that my wife left me. My terrible mood swings caused my eldest son to suffer clinical depression and it also was a major factor in my youngest sons marriage break-up.

My sons farm in a partnership with me and I made their lives hell. If they suggested anything to help on the farm I wouldnt let them do it.

For example, they wanted to have three larger tractors to do the cultivations where I wanted three smaller tractors for every 100 acres we had.

I knew their advice was right, but I loved the power I had over them by saying no because I had become a control freak. Anyone in the same position should go to their GP and seek help.

Things are much better now, the boys run the farm and are doing well. I am semi-retired and act only as a consultant when they need me. You know what they say about old men and old horses breaking you, well that nearly happened to us. Give the young a chance is my motto.

Cambridgeshire farmer

Name and address supplied.

Genetics brings double standard

The announcement of the completion of deciphering human chromosome 22, as part of the human genome project, was greeted with considerable acclaim in the Press recently. It was compared with splitting the atom, going to the moon, and Darwins The Origin of Species. It is deemed to be one of the most important scientific advances ever.

The technology used to achieve this breakthrough is the same technology used to assist in modern plant breeding techniques, particularly in the production of plants with modified genomes, commonly called GMOs.

Is it not ironic that the technology used to help understand, cure and protect mankind is praised, while the same technology is scorned when used to modify plants, also for the benefit of mankind? The problems of the 21st century can be solved only by a holistic approach in which there is no room for Luddite thinking of single interest groups.

Dr D A Stormonth

Technical director, Farmacy plc, 42 Manor Street, Ruskington, Sleaford,

Keep genetic genie bottled-up

Your GM Crops Special (Arable, Dec 3) was interesting, especially for what it left out. Ronald Duguid thinks the honest, open and public-spirited Notts farmer who chose to consult his neighbours and parishioners about a proposed GM crop trial made a mistake.

Why should dozens of farmers and hundreds of gardeners in that farmers neighbourhood have to suffer genetic pollution of their land and crops in order to further the narrow commercial ambitions of a foreign multinational drug and agrochem corporation?

Your list of supermarkets attitudes to GM crops noticeably omitted Iceland whose courageous chairman, Malcolm Walker, stands out like a beacon. His early and principled opposition to the imposition of unlabelled genetically polluted food shamed the rest of the supermarket fence-sitters to follow his lead.

The ecosystems of nature are a perfectly balanced and integrated whole which is self-regulating. Only a tiny fraction of this is understood by science but this balance will be readily disrupted by the ignorance and greed of science prostituted to the aims of commercial powerlust.

GM technology is not about supplying human needs, it is about the pursuit of monopoly power and control in the global seed supply industry. Tampering with the very building blocks of life invites catastrophe by unintended consequences.

The response of farmers worldwide to low prices should be to aim for self-sufficiency and to save their own open-pollinated seeds.

Nearly all scientific research today is controlled by commercial interests. The "science" that we get is the science being promoted by corporate interests to further their own commercial ambitions.

The public is, accordingly, quite right to be highly sceptical of such science. The governments abuse of the name of science in the BSE disaster ensured that.

Scientists are dependent on sponsorship and salaries from these commercial interests for the advancement of their careers. Their pronouncements and empty promises should be treated with caution. Global corporations have hijacked science as an attempt to justify their quest for commercial monopoly.

GM food is a fundamental mistake. The public does not want it. Any claimed benefits, even if achievable, can be provided by more benign systems.

As far as food production is concerned, the rightful place for the genie of genetic engineering is in a tightly stoppered bottle.

Stuart Pattison

Church Lane, Calstock, Cornwall.

Live selling must be kept

Is there a hidden motive in the Agenda 2000 proposals to eliminate the sale of prime cattle by auction?

The proposals state that every animal sold deadweight will be eligible for a slaughter premium. Apparently the farmer who sells the animal for slaughter should claim the premium. That, unfortunately, is not always the case.

At auction marts, animals presented for slaughter at lighter weights are sometimes bought by others who take them on to higher weights and represent them. In such circumstances it is the second seller who would claim the premium.

Sadly, the original owner would not know whether he or she would be paid the premium until the November of the year in which the animal was presented. That is because the slaughter premium will be paid only once a year.

I believe it will drive sellers away from the live auction mart system. A strategy must be found that ensures the live auction seller is not disadvantaged in this way. Would it be possible to add a page to an animals passport to be registered to the seller, which would guarantee his rightful payment? Other suggestions would be welcome.

It is time for farmers and auctioneers to stand up to be counted to ensure that this fair and open system of selling finished cattle remains. Live selling is, after all, the standard which sets all cattle prices.

Tony Wilson

Old Wingate Farm, Trimdon Station, Co Durham.

Put input prices under spotlight

I have a financial interest in UK farming, and in view of the profit squeeze I am astonished that so little is being done to highlight the high price of farming inputs in relation to declining commodity prices.

International prices for many raw materials have declined steadily – nitrogen, phosphates, timber, steel and aluminium. Many more have reached bottom over the past two years. Do you believe that these reductions have reached the farmer?

Everybody groans about farm economics, but where can one find data on input prices?

Andrew Butler

Andrew Butler Financial Services, Seehaldenstrasse 25, 8802 Kilchberg, Switzerland.

Father was no Countryfile fan

Charlie Flindts article (Talking Point, Dec 3) really hit the mark for me. My father, who despite being a left wing socialist (a rare breed these days), used to love listening to Farming Today and, as a keen fisherman, the farming weather was a must. When Countryfile was introduced it ruined his Sundays forever. He likened the presenters, with their rainbow sweaters, to the weaker elements of the SDP.

He drove my mother mad by moaning and grumbling all the way through ("not another hedgehog hospital!"). Eventually she forced him to watch it with the sound turned down until the weather forecast came on. My father passed away a few years ago but if Mr Flindt does get his Farming Hour then I know he will have at least one viewer from the spirit world.

Robert Widdup

39 Isham Road, Orlingbury, Kettering.

Countryfile no lame duck

If only Charlie Flindt (Talking Point, Dec 3) was more in tune with the facts when he chose to criticise the BBCs coverage of rural affairs on Countryfile and Farming Today. But he was right about one fact. He is in the land of nod.

Had he been awake during the last year he would have seen that Countryfiles coverage of rural issues has hit the headlines every week since the programme was re-launched at the start of the year. The coverage has included following the ups and downs of three different farmers, a live outside broadcast at the start of the Labour party conference, under cover investigation into black market veterinary drugs and a profile of a hunting community, which earned the programme an official reprimand following complaints from those opposed to hunting. It is the aim of the programme makers to ensure that Countryfile survives in an ever more competitive broadcast field. Countryfile is the only BBC networked show of its type and has just been recommissioned for a further two years – due no doubt to the fact that the programme is now enjoyed by more viewers than ever before. And these are the people who continue to tell us that they like John Craven, and the new logo which put the butterfly and much of Charlies argument to flight sometime ago.

Incidentally, the same team also helps produce Farming Today which won the much coveted Sony News Award last year. The programme, which first exposed supermarket pricing, revealed how the French were using human waste as well as flouting our own animal hygiene laws and which exposed the hidden costs of BSE, continues to report farming issues every morning. But then Charlie Flindt wouldnt know that. Hes asleep.

Andrew Thorman

Deputy editor, BBC Lifestyle and Features, Birmingham.

Why, oh why be nice to France?

Why, after centuries of trying to keep the French out of Britain, are we trying to be nice to them?

S Baldwin

Latton, Nr Swindon, Wilts.

Time to check on French milk

We were amazed to read Angela Sugdens letter (Letters, Nov 26) in which she says "a great deal of Sainsburys milk is French milk and has been for many years". As an English supplier of milk to Sainsburys, we know what strict quality assurance Sainsburys insist for their English milk producers. On the same day that we read this letter we read in the Sunday Times that, "European Union hygiene inspectors have delivered a damning report on French milk producers".

Certainly the three dairy farms we have seen in France (we do not know where their milk goes) would not have passed the Sainsburys inspection for English farms. Therefore, perhaps Sainsburys should provide the names and addresses of the French farms supplying their milk, so we can be sure they have the same standard of inspection.

S. Harrison

Greystone Farm, Blockley, Glos.

Brown blaming farmers again

After acknowledging in October that the UK pig industry was suffering problems that were exceptional and not of its own making, the farm minister seems to be retracting his statements.

During the agricultural debate of Oct 28, he said that the pig industry had a "genuine grievance". During a meeting with the NPA, he acknowledged that the UK industrys problems ran deeper than a normal pig cycle.

Now he appears to be reverting to the arguments that it is all our own fault, in blaming the "extraordinary optimism which the industry showed back in 1996 when prices were very high".

We need Mr Brown to confirm his understanding of the exceptional circumstances afflicting our industry and to accept his responsibility in doing something about it.

The UK breeding herd peaked in 1997 at less than the peak in 1993. But it has now crashed twice as far as it did after the last peak. In the year to August 1999, the UK herd fell by 12% while the main EU herds fell by at most 3% (France), or increased by 3% (Netherlands and Denmark).

That happened because the UK pig industry has had its competitiveness undermined by our government, which issued unilateral UK legislation on animal welfare resulting in both capital cost and permanent running costs to the industry.

Nevertheless, pork imports that do not meet UK production legislation continue to rise. True, the government is helping us to assess the difference in our product in the market through the activities of Mike Roper, the MAFF Verification Officer, and through strengthened labelling guidelines. But those measures do not go far enough.

The NPA is calling for compulsory labels that say: "This product was produced under conditions that are illegal in UK", just as the Swiss government has done to protect its farmers.

The BSE tax has been imposed on pig producers despite the fact that no fault lies with pig producers. They are paying £5.26 a pig to satisfy the public health concerns surrounding the beef industry. There is no justification for imposing this burden on pig producers. We want the removal of these costs, so that we might restore our competitive position.

A group of UK pig producers is exploring the possibility of seeking a judicial review of the governments actions, on the grounds of discrimination against all UK pig producers. The NPA has offered to administer the fighting fund supporting this action. Legal advice is being taken before producers decide whether or not to pursue their case and the NPA has put them in touch with an experienced QC.

Mike Sheldon

Chief executive, National Pig Association, PO Box 29072, London.

Flax growers tighten grip

I read with interest your news (Nov 19) regarding EU proposals to cut the area aid payment for flax and hemp. This is the latest in a series of moves by the traditional flax growing member states, such as Belgium and France, at protectionism.

The EU, having introduced more rigid regulations at the behest of the traditionalists, have seen the total hectarage explode, mainly because the Spanish cultivated nearly 100,000ha this year.

The Spanish authorities have been lax in applying the new regulations. It is interesting to note that since these new regulations were introduced and applied in the UK the total annual hectarage has reduced from 22,500ha to 16,500ha.

Hopefully, Spain will ensure its area is policed correctly. If that does not occur the commission should take measures to investigate and penalise misdemeanours.

More worrying are the traditionalists pressure groups exerting influence over the commission on the way in which this countrys flax industry is perceived. Those UK companies involved in this industry have made significant investment in processing capacity and our sister company Tamlyn in particular has made major inroads into supplying textile quality linen from British flax.

The UK government must see this for what it is and resist attempts by the French and Belgians to make a special case for themselves by persisting with their protectionist policies.

Flax and hemp are of minor importance compared with the continued travails being inflicted upon our beef industry. But unless our government makes a concerted effort in arguing the case for fibre crops, then even this alternative for farming will fall victim to the narrow-minded and insular pressure groups across the Channel.

Steven Rudkin

Managing director, Industrial Crop Partnership Ltd. Laura House, Fairpark Road, Wadebridge, Cornwall.

BCMS finally gets e-mail

Methinks the man from MAFF chides too much (Livestock, Dec 3). BCMS was set up from scratch a year ago with a clean sheet and unlimited budget. Despite that, it was impossible to communicate instructions either by fax or e-mail.

BCMS moved into the twentieth century shortly before it ends and can now cope with e-mail. I suggest that the main reason only 3% of passports are applied for by this medium is that until recently the option did not exist.

J B Randle

Newhouse Farm, Buxted, East Sussex.

Send cheques out all at once

How can this government dare justify itself as a fair and equal government when it can pay some farmers their IACS cheques in October while others had still not received them by early December?

Why should we be so disadvantaged by what seems to be such a haphazard system? Surely it would be fairer to pay everyone at once. It cannot be that difficult.

Mark Cheyney

10 North End Farm, Cheriton, Alresford, Hants.

See more