24 July 1998


Ferry will be run by a professional

I would like to clarify some of the issues raised by your report about the Farmers Ferry (Royal Show Report, July 10).

In setting up Farmers Ferry Ltd, legal advice has been taken from Burgess Salmon, financial guidance from Kidson Impey, and Anderson Consulting made an analysis of the market and developed the business plan. It is important that this business, while being a farmers initiative funded by producers, is based on a sound and professional footing.

Some people have asked whether a group of farmers is qualified to run a ferry? The reality is Farmers Ferry is employing the expertise of an experienced ferry operator to run the ferry itself. We know our strengths, operating a ferry is not one of them, and we will turn to professional help where necessary.

It is also true that a comprehensive prospectus, as suggested by some, would have provided greater reassurance to those with reservations. The project, until donations started to flow, has been entirely financed by the directors. We felt that our outlay, especially early on, should not include the costs of a prospectus which was estimated at £150,000 plus expenses.

To put this sum in context, it is equivalent to 1500 producers making a minimum donation of £100. That would have been before anyone gave any money.

We believe that the information mailed to producers, carried through the media and presented at farmer meetings, answers many of the questions. However if anyone wishes to know more or would like a donation form, please do not hesitate to contact the Farmers Ferry hotline on 0870-2410153.

Terry Bayliss

Chairman, Farmers Ferry Ltd, PO Box No 1, Portishead, Bristol BS20 9BR.

Sainsburys put message across

What a pity your comments (Opinion, July 10) were so critical of Sainsburys stand at the Royal Show. My wife and I thought the supermarkets effort to show quality British produce alongside a display focusing on its origins was a public relations exercise head and shoulders above the other stores efforts. I am sure it helped to improve farmings image to the public.

I agree the extra costs of farm assured status and environmental preservation fall heavily on farmers shoulders. Any extra support from the supermarkets would be welcome.

David Richardson was spot on in his article (July 10). The simple punchy message is all that most show goers will take in. Sainsbury got it right.

Jonathan Dixon Smith

NFU Essex county chairman, Lanhams Farm, Cressing, Braintree, Essex.

Silly prices for milk quota

Like most other milk producers, I am very concerned about the unrealistic prices being sought for milk quota. I would like to point out a few points to anyone thinking of breaking ranks and paying (or worse still bidding up) the quota price.

Most producers are receiving about 20% less for their milk compared with this time last year, yet the quota leasing price is within a penny of what most people had to pay last year. The sale price is about 1.5p/litre higher than the same used quota would have cost last summer.

It was implied in the Press recently that Milk Marque may manage to push the milk price up after their July selling round. That would not take effect until after Oct 1. With the strengthening £ and the expiration of some of the longer-term contracts (when the milk was sold at a higher price), any increase is unlikely to be more than 0.5p/litre. That looks fairly insignificant compared with the 20% drop, and certainly no reason to bid up an already over priced market.

As with most markets, the quota market is a bluffing game. If producers requiring quota continue to hold off, lessors and vendors may lose some of their confidence, especially after considering the recent trend with production figures. However by dipping into the market now to cover some of their requirement they will hold the price up for everyone, and any further quota they may require. So I urge producers to do their sums before they get their cheque books out.

Christopher J French

Brewerstreet Farm, Bletchingley, Redhill, Surrey.

Farmers footing bill for ACCS

John Tudor of NABIM says that he is impressed by 5000 farmers joining ACCS (Letters, July 10). I can assure him that few have joined because they think the scheme is right. They have joined because they fear the consequences of not joining. That is blackmail and cannot the right way forward.

As farmers, we are incensed by the fact that the scheme is being run by a company, Checkmate, that is solely interested in its own profits – money which is going out of our industry. The scale of charges is ridiculously loaded against smaller farmers. How much are the millers and compounders paying for their inspections?

The most infuriating thing of all is that while the imposition of this scheme will make little difference to the already good quality of UK grain, it will make applicants economical with the truth when form-filling.

As for traceability – it stops at the ports and the intake pits. Ingredients will continue to be imported from who-knows-where, and once a load of grain has been tipped it is indistinguishable from any other in the same bin. Worst of all, we can still cover it in OP insecticide!

The ACCS is for the benefit of millers, manufacturers and supermarkets at the cost of the producers, and that causes no small amount of ill feeling. Most farmers are suspicious of the scheme, and are particularly aggravated by the fact that the NFU has promoted it. Now is time for the NFU to canvass all cereal producers to establish whether or not they have a mandate to continue to support the scheme or actively oppose it.

With the onset of the impending recession, the consumer will be even more readily guided by the price tag than any assurance.

I urge farmers to show solidarity by not joining this scheme, which, if not laid to rest, must be seriously amended. My advice to the NFU is the sooner it acts the better; before the trickle of cancelled subscriptions becomes a flood.

J B Harper

Crockwell Farm, Eydon, Daventry, Northants.

Margins debate too one-sided

The debate about Tesco meat margins has been terribly one-sided, particularly with regard to the mark up on cattle and sheep. For example, a bullock costing £600, when sold comes in at about £110. When BSE first started, the price dropped and they could hardly keep up with demand.

Ron Sabiston

Lighthouse Farm, Finstown, Orkney.

No clamour from consumers

As the date approaches when English cereal assurance is to be debated in Brussels, it could be useful to assess where we have got to.

The Food Safety Act, passed by the last Tory government, when implemented will take care of any problems of grain in store and it will affect all farms. And cereal assurance is not voluntary if your trader refuses to buy.

We have allowed pieces of nonsense into what should have been our scheme. For example: there is more unprotected glass in one supermarket than in 200 grain stores. Does the shopper see the service records of the food distribution trucks as we are supposed to show tractor records to our buyers?

The verifiers are not, nor can ever be seen to be, independent when they are farmers and merchants. There is no clamour from the consumer for assured cereals. They have good cereals already from home production and from overseas.

Imports will not be affected. The strength of the pound and a cheap buy abroad policy carry more weight with supermarket buyers.

Farmers voted by more than 1600 to 60 to say the assured scheme is wrong.

Only the farming Establishment, which even put out misinformation on Brussels approval, want this nonsense.

Ask the assured scheme manipulators: Would they help to promote home-grown and assured grain on our home market? The answer is no.

Supermarkets are happy to see some of their food products sourced in second-hand and rusty containers.

That food is not checked at the point of process and is not cooked or heat treated by consumers before consumption. But the producers of this particular product did not form an assurance scheme and give it to the trade to implement and run.

Peter Hepworth

Frank Hepworth & Son, Kirkburn Manor, Driffield.

NFU should be force for unity

I write regarding your plea for unity (Opinion, July 10). Surely, if the NFU had been doing its job properly in the first place, there would be no call for unity. The farmer is definitely on his own in this country.


Latton, Nr Swindon.

Horror story had to be told

May I thank you for the publication of the information supplied by Brenda Sutcliffe on OPs (Features, June 12). Never have I seen as much on the subject and never have I read such a true horror story. It needed to be told and I hope your journal will continue to cover the subject of OP poisoning.

Charles Wye

The Organic Shop, The Square, Stow-on-the-Wold, Glos.

OP victims are being ignored

It is 10 years since I was struck down by OP poisoning, which I would never wish on my worst enemy. I wonder at all the cover-ups involving so many authorities and bureaucrats.

We do not want meetings behind closed doors or further investigation by investors in monopolies, or those with interests in chemical companies. Neither do we want any more delaying tactics.

The goalposts for us sufferers have been moved too often, leaving us pushed to one side without treatment and understanding of what some of us go through.

I wonder why many past OP campaigners like myself, have been deleted from the present mailing list run by the so-called leading campaigners.

George Westcott

1 Bircham Road, Minehead, Somerset.

Fewer workers – higher rewards

Reading Sue Daltons Talking Point (July 10), took me back 60 years to a time when all farming was organic.

Average size farms were much smaller and each had many enterprises. It was the only way to control weeds and diseases. Charlock in second cereals meant three horses hoeing with still a mass of yellow in the rows, and only half yields.

But the worst aspect was the low pay we got. For physical work, one man was needed per 28 acres. The 374 acres farm I worked on had 12 men and me to load wagons.

The farm had cows, sheep, pigs and laying hens. Wheat, barley and oats were grown for stock feed, with potatoes and sugar beet as break crops, plus rape and turnips for folding sheep.

A mans pay was £1.75 for 48 hours (the equivalent today of 97p per hour) and there lies the rub. Mechanisation and specialisation, together with a three-fold increase in yields, have led to far fewer workers, but each receiving much more reasonable rates, and working 19% fewer hours.

That is mostly thanks to sprays, fertilisers, and £40,000 tractors and £100,000-plus combines.

Shipping has containerisation, car production has automation, offices computerisation and farming has specialisation. There is no going back. Jumbo jets get bigger and sailing ships belong to a past era.

George Scales

Scales Farm Ltd, Cobblers pieces, Abbess Roding, Ongar, Essex.

Ruling has no bearing in UK

I would like to comment on the letter from J L Wright (July 19) headed "Unused quota rule welcome". I wish more research was undertaken before such letters were written. They lead many farmers to misinterpret the situation and to believe that there will be a crash in quota prices, which encourages them either to wait or renege on existing deals.

This is not, as Mr Wright points out, a recent case, and he fails to realise that the European Court of Justice Ruling was in 1997 and was a French case. It is known as the Macon Case and deals with compensation for the surrender of milk quota under a Community scheme, designed to reduce milk production in member states. The scheme was taken up in France, but not in the UK and many other member states. That was mainly because the value of quota has always exceeded the EC compensation offered.

MAFF is of the opinion that the case has no bearing on the UK position, and it is clear that the government is not looking to tinker at the edges with the current UK milk quota system. It prefers to spend its time in influencing other member states for the complete abolition of the quota system.

The case dealt with two important definitions, namely the definition of a producer "only farmers actually selling milk or other milk products can be considered to be producers" and "that only producers can hold quota".

Farmers should not rely on such letters for their market intelligence. If you need clarification consult your broker.

They should know the up-to-date position on everything that is likely to effect the market and will advise you accordingly. Non-producers are not going to have their quota confiscated.

Ian Potter

Ian Potter Associates, Sallyfield Lane, Stanton, Ashbourne, Derbyshire.

Any sightings of veteran Alvis?

I am trying to trace the history of my 1932, two-seater, drophead coupe TJ 12/50 Alvis, GG 8294. In 1960 it was purchased in Okehampton, probably from F J Glass, and towed to Dorset where it was stored for 28 years before being restored.

The man who brought it in 1960, to save it from being scrapped, says it had been used on a farm for many years and had stood by a muck heap for a time before being disposed of. He is probably right as the car had a substantial towing hitch welded to the rear dumbirons.

Originally the car was black with cream wheels but by 1960 may have been grey. I would be grateful for any information, however tenuous, from anyone who remembers any car like this on their farm or a neighbours.

Michael Thurbon

6 Islet Road, Maidenhead, Berks.

Agriculture is sustainable

Heres a simple question. What on earth is meant by sustainable agriculture? There would not be any point in farming if we didnt think that what we did was sustainable. If it were not, we would be no better than the nomads of the past.

The progression from a simply destructive method of food gathering, to the intensive food creation of today has been possible only because farmers have had to be forward looking.

We know that what we do today determines what we can do in the years ahead. It is wrong for us to be criticised by meaningless terminology for something we have absolutely no intention of doing.

A plea that we should strive for sustainable agriculture, infers that we, as farmers, are doing otherwise which I consider daft and insulting.

The rich and influential may be able to live in the past. But we have to live and work for the future.

Donald Langmead

Flansham House, Hoe Lane, Flansham, Bognor Regis, West Sussex.

Make rural disc number one…

The song Guardians of The Land, written and sung by countryside supporter George Bowyer, is the latest initiative of countryside campaigners to increase awareness among the public and politicians of our rural crisis.

If all who support the countryside order the single now, it will reach number one in the charts and send a message to those who matter. The countryside may be a minority, but we are part of this country and we matter.

The government cannot afford to ignore us and all we represent.

The Countryside Rally and Countryside March attracted 120,000 and 300,000 supporters respectively. If we all ordered a copy of Guardians of The Land today, we could achieve more than we did on those two historic days.

Mark Wilesmith

The Pastures, Grit Lane, Malvern, Worcs.

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