31 December 1999


Scholars can seek out the best ideas

Some time ago I attended the annual Nuffield Farming Scholarships winter conference, where the latest scholars reported on their findings from around the world.

With British agriculture in the lowest state of depression and financial decline that I can ever remember, there can be no better time to apply for a scholarship. Sitting at home reading these Nuffield scholars papers is one way to try to see if there is light at the end of the tunnel. But far better is to travel around the world and seek out that one idea or opportunity that will bring you home turbo-charged with inspiration and a feeling that there is life after BSE and collapsing world prices.

Each and every one of the Nuffield scholars were positive in their outlook and were in a position to lead, not to wait for the opportunities and benefits to pass them by. My advice to any one in our industry is telephone 01825-762928, ask for details and fill in an application form now.

If you have the time, Nuffield and its sponsors will make the investment.

Hopefully, next year I can meet with my fellow Nuffield scholars and listen to someone who has read this and will be telling us the latest in the industry, from production to marketing, management to the bottom line and organic to the latest in satellite planning. They will be aware of the global pressures and the latest European politics that we in the UK are subjected to.

Paul R Charter

PR & PE Charter, Henley House, Longhope, Glos.

Cold shoulder from Marque

Since 1981 I have been a loyal member of the Milk Marketing Board and Milk Marque, but since giving up milk production Milk Marque has completely ignored requests for information.

Initially, my Milk Marque shares were put up for sale, at the required time, with the Lloyds TSB Registrar Dealing Service. On Oct 1 I received a short note from them explaining that due to the possible restructuring of Milk Marque the service had been withdrawn and my share certificates returned nothing from Milk Marque.

As a continuing shareholder in the company I expected – as I believe is my legal right – to receive information relating to the future of Milk Marque – but nothing.

On Oct 10, I telephoned Finn Christensen and explained the situation but the outcome was again nothing.

On Oct 21, I left a message on my local account managers answer phone, reference the lack of communication from Milk Marque. The call was returned five days later accepting that it was a poor state of affairs and he would try to remedy it.

On Nov 21 I still had heard absolutely nothing.

I feel saddened that Milk Marque chooses to forget about its loyal supporters. I also suggest to those producers who remain with its successor in the south, Meadow Fresh, employ staff who are concerned about all of their members, even those who do not supply milk.

D M Beechey

Southacott Farm, Mariansleigh, South Molton,

Time to give youth a chance

The future of British agriculture lies in the hands of the younger generations. At present it is virtually impossible for young and able enthusiasts to join, let alone climb the farming ladder. There are many reasons for this, however, one is the unwillingness of the older generation to retire.

Thats because of the lack of proper provision to enable retirement, or shear disinclination to properly give up and allow a fresh younger face to take over the reins.

As many farming businesses pass from generation to generation, it causes frustration to younger generations. And there is a tendency for the same cycle to occur again. Thus it could be said that some of the ageism in farming is a self perpetuating cycle.

In order to allow the younger generation to exploit talent, innovation, energy and enthusiasm, I have reluctantly concluded that compulsory retirement from farming, but not land ownership, should be implemented. That would force proper provision for retirement to be made, drive down the average age of farmers, currently 58, and remove some of the apathy amongst the younger generation for participation in NFU and other similar activities.

I would be interested to know whether anyone else shares my views.

Charles Landless

Field Cottage, Hill Farm, Duns Tew, Bicester, Oxon.

Cant send em beef or calves

Is there not some irony that, while our beef is apparently not good enough for the French market, public opinion in Britain prevents us from exporting live calves and lambs for fear of the treatment they might receive across the Channel?

David Griffiths.

Piper Farm, Smithy Lane, Long Whatton, Loughborough.

Hedge clippings left uncleared

Although I have every sympathy with farmers who are currently struggling to stay in business, I nevertheless feel strongly that they should not be quite so cavalier in their attitude to the amount of mud and hedge trimmings they leave on our roads.

When I was farming 30 years ago, it was routine to clear any mud, from tractor tyres, from the road and if it wasnt done reasonably quickly, the local bobby was soon on the case. Similarly, when roadside hedges were trimmed, unlike today where the trimmings lie where they fall, they were quickly cleared in order to prevent passing motorists getting punctures.

I dont know how true it was, but we were always led to believe that should an accident, caused by our mud or hedge trimmings, occur, then we would be liable by law. If that still remains the case, then there many farmers out there, who are taking a big gamble with their inaction.

Incidentally, I cant understand why our pig industry is in such a parlous state. Not long ago, Tesco in Launceston had ham on the bone on its delicatessen counter for a bargain £11/kg.

G W J Norris.

Pevans Cottage, Bradstone, Tavistock.

Restaurants set to eclipse farms

Listening to BBC Radio 4 I learnt that in this country more people are employed in Indian and Pakistani restaurants than in the steel-making, ship-building and mining industries combined.

With regret, I prophecy that before long, unless our present government becomes capable of governing effectively, this sad litany may soon read; steel-making, ship-building, mining and agriculture.

It is time we all stopped fiddling while Rome burns.

Peter Weston-Davies

Huge profits on rural housing

Serplan, the regional conference of planning authorities, recommends half of the 1m new homes it believes are needed in the south-east by 2016 should be built in the countryside.

That will create profits for the comparatively few landowners involved of £15bn based on 15 houses per acre and an average plot value of £30,000. A 15,000% increase over agricultural value.

Should the taxation rate on profits of this type be the same as that applied to property development inside existing town and village planning boundaries, where profit margins are only a small fraction of 15,000%?

Should not the building profit incentive playing field be made more level between these two types of building land?

That could be achieved by an unavoidable 85% tax on land profits arising when countryside land is re-zoned to building land. As with road building compulsory purchase order powers could be used where necessary.

The extra tax revenue received could be used to help achieve the conclusion of the governments Urban Task Force, chaired by Lord Rogers, that 60% of new homes needed over the next 20 years could be built on brownfield sites. That could bring about an urban renaissance and save more of our countryside.

John Freeman

25 Harrington Road, London.

Figuring out the right figure

FWs Business section (Nov 19) reported comments made by land agents Carter Jonas and accountants Grant Thornton, about various aspects of farm profitability.

The rental figure for traditional tenancies from Carter Jonas was £57/acre. Grant Thorntons figure for rent and finance was quoted as between £38 and £33/acre.

Why the difference? Who should we believe?

David G Bell

Church Farm, Church Street, North Kelsey, Market Rasen.

Womens work was never done

As a fellow member of the Institute of Agricultural Secretaries, I support the sentiments of Deborah Dann (Letters, Nov 19). But I must take issue with her statement that rural women have not made a contribution to agriculture until this time of crisis.

My mother, who is now in her 70s, came to farming on her marriage in 1942. As photographs of the time show, she worked alongside the men in the fields. I grew up accepting that she, and other female family members, worked on the farm, as well as undertaking all the domestic tasks.

It was not until I mixed with youngsters from other backgrounds at grammar school that I found out that most married women at that time did not go to work. In the early 60s, my mother and father worked shifts to keep the grain drier going 24 hours a day, as drying grain for neighbours was about the only enterprise to show a profit then.

Before I trained as a farm secretary, she undertook the recording for the farm, and, as older readers will remember, keeping track of hired sacks was a full-time job on its own.

When times became more prosperous, she was able to take a slightly less active role, but continued to help at harvest time, At 70 years old, at a time of crisis on this farm, she drove a tractor and trailer on busy roads to cart corn.

I am proud of my mother, but I know that she is not unique. There are many women that I know who have always played an active role in British agriculture. The only thing that has changed as far as I can see, is that the contribution is at last being acknowledged.

Linda M Sawyer.

Little House, Old Hurst, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.

Close call after bridge collapses

I should be grateful if you would bring to the notice of our fellow farmers a near fatal experience I endured crossing a wooden bridge on my farm.

The main beams of this bridge were 340mm, therefore very substantial and deemed to be in good condition by a team of surveyors employed by the Environmental Agency.

I have crossed this bridge scores of times during the past eight years I have farmed this farm as indeed did the previous occupier. I have to admit that the 16ft bed on the front of the combine gave me a sense of security – forget it!

On August 16 returning home after a days combining, the bridge collapsed and the machine finished up resting upside down on its grain tank and engine at the bottom of Skitter Beck. I was trapped by my legs between the steering column and the combine seat, my body was immersed in water. It was eight hours before I was freed by a magnificent fire brigade and paramedics and I am very lucky to be alive.

Please learn by my ordeal – do not trust wooden bridges or indeed any bridges that have suspicion of safety.

Ted England

Manor House Farm, Jericho Lane, East Halton, Immingham.

Where has the set yogurt gone?

If our major dairy companies are serious about using more milk, particularly at present bargain prices, how is that set yogurt, that classic dairy product with alleged life prolonging qualities, can no longer be bought from Unigate salesmen? Similarly Safeways own label brand has disappeared from its shelves.

These covert actions by the dairy trade are reminiscent of the disappearance of milk "as from the cow", the holy writ of the old MMB, and its silent replacement by standardised milk.

Farewell to natural products and the joys of seasonality. Hello to the power of the vegetable fat lobby.

John Jenkin

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

Grapes north of Ipswich now

I read that Phil Jones of UEA (News, Oct 29) suggests that global warming will allow grapes to be grown around Ipswich. If the Professor came down from his ivory tower, he would find that grapes are already grown north of Ipswich.

There is a large vineyard at Chilford, near Cambridge, and others at Stoke by Clare, Shimpling and Exning. There was one at Wilburton, near Ely, but it closed because it was not big enough to be viable. Another in Norfolk closed recently for the same reason. The Romans grew vines round York, and the Vikings farmed in Greenland.

There was an offence during the war called Causing Alarm and Despondency. It should be revived for some of todays "experts".

John Drummond

2 Hereward Close, Aldreth, Haddenham, Ely.

Support fails rural markets

The ongoing crisis and economic meltdown in the livestock sector, with pig farmers going out of business and sheep producers in the marginal and less favoured areas facing a difficult Christmas and millennium, have given rise to a rural economy devoid of animals.

If New Labour continues down the socio-economic road of de-population, they will not gain rural voters support. Some elitist civil servants reading this letter might like to face the same contemptible disregard as those within rural society.

My region recently won EU financial support. Although welcome, it fails the tranquil and land use aspects of this regions rural economy.And it fails the future of hardworking livestock markets.

If we fail to support the EUs early retirement scheme, we shall fail the realities of future employment and a younger, educated and trained generation.

John E Willett

14 Eastgate Road, Holmes Chapel, Cheshire.

Slaughters will stop BSE cold

I was surprised to read that there are still going to be approximately 3000 cases of BSE in the UK this year. Whatever the cause may be, it is time to adopt other countries methods to deal with the problem. From now on if any case of BSE occurs the whole herd should be slaughtered.

There would be advantages all round if this policy was now adopted. To the consumer and the world at large there would not be any remaining reason to boycott British beef on the grounds of safety.

To the British farmer abattoir rules and costs could be standardised with other European countries thus making the process cheaper, all age restrictions for beef consumption would disappear and we would once again have a free and fair market.

The government would not lose out either, all but a small percentage of herds have been BSE free for some time so the cost would be minimal. The OTMS payments would cease and the aim of the government to eradicate BSE would be rapidly fulfilled.

The only reason that I can see for this not to be adopted is that it will appear obvious that it should have happened a long time ago.

Peter Jenkins

Westrow Farm, Holwell, Sherborne, Dorset.

Another view in calcium debate

I refer to your article (Arable, Oct 1) and subsequent letters (Oct 15) in connection with the use of lime as granular vs regular ground chalk.

Nobody mentions the fact that these products are supplying calcium to the soil but measuring the pH does not indicate the need for calcium.

pH is the negative logarithm of the amount of hydrogen ions found in the soil. Hydrogen is a gas and can be easily and readily exchanged for any of the positively charged cations, including calcium.

In many instances, calcium is applied to correct the pH of a particular soil when in fact, the calcium levels are good and the soil may be deficient in, for example, potassium and/or magnesium.

Check the pH but make corrections to the appropriate soil balancer as per the Albrecht model for Ca, Mg and K.

Granulated calcium is an excellent product for supplying readily available calcium (when you need it), much in the same way you would apply potash or magnesium.

Robert Plumb

Independent Soil Services, Hall farm House, Back Street, Gayton, Kings Lynn,

See more