READERS LETTERS

7 April 2000




READERS LETTERS

Help police in war on rural crime

As the officer with specific responsibility for the rural sector, I was interested to read the article on rural crime and the FWi/TER Theftline initiative (Leader and Features, Mar 17).

My colleagues and I police more than 1000sq miles. Although this is the largest area command in England, we are currently recording an average of only seven crimes a day. Most of these offences take place in the more densely populated areas of Hexham and Prudhoe. However, there are opportunist thieves, particularly from neighbouring inner-city areas, who take advantage of the relatively lax security measures adopted by many country dwellers.

To help counter this, we are currently trying to initiate a Farmwatch scheme and are seeking the support of local farmers and other residents. However, this is proving difficult. The perception is that crime is rare in countryside areas, so residents are reluctant to become involved in self-help schemes. Another initiative, a joint project with the Health and Safety Executive to provide accident prevention advice and prevent inadvertent breaches of HSE legislation, has met with a similar lack of enthusiasm.

Rural crime may have a lower profile than its urban counterpart, and be less frequent or intense, but it does exist. Its effects on victims can be just as devastating. Northumbria Police wants to reduce crime and the fear of crime wherever it exists but we can only do this effectively if those we are trying to help work with us.

Gavin Clark

Inspector 7292, Northumbria Police, South West Northumberland Area Command, Shaftoe Leazes, Hexham, Northumberland.

Single web site to unite farmers

Your correspondent, IJ Bennett (Letters, Mar 10) has had a good idea in setting up a www farming syndicate. But there are some initial problems.

All the following web sites have been already filled by vegetarian groups, including Beef.com (and co.uk), meat.com, britishbeef.com and madcow.com

It will be difficult to get the hard-hit, small-scale farmers to pay for the expertise, co-operate and organise themselves in such an undertaking.

So, come on FW, register the site www.farm-uk.com and help set up a system which can represent the bulk of UK farmers as a single entity. That could help us overcome the power of the supermarkets and the flood of cheap, welfare-hostile imports.

RM Pothecary

Littleton Manor Farm, Littleton Lane, Reigate, Surrey.

Budget ignored farmings woes

It is now obvious from Chancellor Gordon Browns budget speech (Business, Mar 24) that farming is non-existent in the present governments programme. It is willing to eat cheap imported food in the Commons rather than British food produced to higher standards. Farmers have taken to their feet in desperation but government has apparently been genetically engineered to have no ears, not even for the one MP who tried to remind the House that it failed to consider farming in the Budget.

There is one way left to sustain farming and that is to put a basic fixed price on farm produce. No other industry purchases its inputs at a fixed price and sells its goods on a floating market at below the costs of production.

Canned and ready-prepared foods are sold by manufacturers at a fixed price yet fresh farm food is not. The present milk crisis is an outstanding instance of the effect of this system. The excuse that the EU or WTO will prevent us from doing so is not acceptable. As government permits processed food prices to be fixed, the same conditions should apply to fresh foods. Because fresh foods are perishable in a shorter period the market has trapped farmers into this present system. If EU farmers can get 25p a litre for milk and more for their beef, then UK farmers must demand the same.

Every farmer should now contact his MP and the EU and demand that all his products carry a basic price plus profit margin. The alternative is to operate as a charity for supermarkets and consumers. Or to get out of farming and turn UK into a prairie, run by multinationals while our food comes in from eastern Europe.

Jose MacDonald

Penlan Fach, Llangain, Carmarthen.

Privacy for all not just Tony

Speaking as a farmer, I find it strange that Tony Blair, who apparently prizes his own privacy so highly, has no qualms about introducing a right to roam bill. It will ensure that hundreds of strangers will invade mine.

J E Lewis

Penyffynon Farm, Doldowlod, Llandrindod Wells, Powys.

No GM blood money for trials

As someone who is hosting a GMO trial this spring I was interested to read your article (News, Mar 24) about payments received by farmers for these trials. I was staggered to read it claimed that the payments received were so high that they would be seen as disproportionate by anti-GM campaigners.

As your caller suggested, I am to receive £400/acre for the trial but this figure will be reduced by the area aid amount, which will be subtracted when it is announced. I estimate that I will receive a payment of £250/acre. That is less than I have received for fungicide trial work in the past. This £250 gross margin compares to the budgeted £210/acre gross margin on seed Princess peas I am growing nearby.

Multiply this price differential of £40 over the nine acres of the trial then you reach the princely sum of £360. Even the most fanciful anti-GMO campaigner could not construe this as some sort of blood-money to be paid to get farmers to sign their non-GMO souls away.

What depresses me is that your article is based on information volunteered by a phone-caller who refuses to be named. One has to ask what is so embarrassing about being approached to do a GM trial?

Farmers who undertake these trials already have to put up with a lot. And they freely give up time to explain the trials to local people, as I did at a meeting on a recent Sunday evening. Not only do we have Greenpeace threatening to come and commit acts of criminal damage on our farms, we also have Friends of the Earth conducting campaigns to "persuade" farmers hosting trials to withdraw. In my book this is bullyboy tactics that Hitler and his Brown-shirts would have been proud of. Added to that, we now have the untrue smear that we are being paid some sort of blood money to undertake this trial work.

I have a reasonable suggestion. Investigate what is the average going rate for undertaking non-GMO related trial work for farmers and see how that compares with that being paid for GMO trial work. Then forward this to the rest of the media.

Guy Smith, Wigboro Wick, St Osyth.

Email: gsmith2692@aol.com

Anti-GM claims utter nonsense

Your prolific anti-GM letter-writer George Scales excelled himself in the letter (Mar 24) entitled What difference would it make?

First, he claimed that Monsanto "adds a hybrid terminator gene to all seed sold". That is utter nonsense. First, no such thing as a "hybrid terminator gene" exists. The so-called terminator gene is an unproven concept . It has never been included in any GM plant, in either commercial use or field trials.

These facts are easily confirmed from public records. Furthermore, it is not Monsantos concept, and we have no rights to its use (even if a terminator gene is ever commercially developed).

As for his criticism of David Richardsons view on potential savings from the use of Roundup-tolerant sugar beet, how can Mr Scales make statements about the cost of such seed when we do not yet know what the seed costs may be? However, there are several independent reports which show that Roundup tolerant sugar beet would save 20-50% in the amount of herbicide used in beet.

Dr Colin Merritt

Biotechnology development manager, Monsanto Agricultural Sector, Maris Lane, Trumpington, Cambs.

Debate on milk pricing is static

While delving in my attic, I came across some old farmers weeklys. I couldnt help being enthralled by the article on the inquiry into milk pricing. Who said the world has changed? Not much difference in attitude among the dairy industry companies, I suggest.

Oliver Dowding

Shepton Farms, Hill Farmhouse, Shepton Montague, Wincanton, Somerset.

Fun but not entirely realistic

The move towards costing a tonne of wheat is commendable because for too long we have been stuck on gross margins per hectare or acre. However, the Unit Cost Challenge competition (Arable, Mar 3), sponsored by farmers weekly and BASF, will not show the true costs of producing that tonne.

Although farmers can assess their variable costs accurately from feed records, the use of operational costs for field work, harvesting etc is likely to be based on contract rates. Commercial prices incorporate a profit element and therefore are not the same as costs. Finally, and crucially, there is no allowance for the farmers overheads or fixed costs such as property repairs and, of course, administration. Neither is there any account taken of rent and finance charges.

I realise that in order to run a competition, the entry form needs to be simple. That is fine provided the winners results, expressed as unit costs a tonne, are not held up to the industry as a realistic target. It will be a fun competition but it will not produce definitive facts.

David Knight

Pippins Farm, Pembury, Tunbridge Wells, Kent.l Finalists make detailed calculations of operational costs which are checked by independent judges, including a qualified agricultural accountant. To create a realistic final unit cost figure, a typical overhead sum, reflecting costs beyond labour and machinery, is then added – EDITOR.

Ruin farming at UKs peril

It seems to be dawning on British farmers that this present government is presiding over the demise of agriculture.

The fact should come as no surprise to those who understand that under globalisation we are a global society; each country has different products and services for which it is responsible. For the British Isles, those are finance and leisure not farming.

Steel, coal, the car industry and others have gone. And farming is following hard on their heels under the Labour government.

What is important today? The environment, tourism in all its forms, the right to roam, agri-environment schemes, banking, finance, the stock market, the city, computing, insurance, where is all the money centred? London and the south-east. Why is the £ strong? For financial reasons alone. It is strangling business and agriculture alike.

So we will get all our food from abroad and these beautiful islands will become a playground. Farmer park-keepers will be paid for, and controlled by, government. Under globalisation everything is controlled. The spirit of control is an increasing reality in our society.

Unfortunately, those in authority who have it all planned, have not studied history. They do not remember the state of agriculture before the last war. We are still an island; wars still happen. There is a big difference between Europe not wanting our food and a blockade that does not allow anything in. Then where does the nations food come from?

R Colbear

Scobchester, Northlew, Okehampton, Devon.

Rickard pig figures right

In commenting on my Lloyds TSB Report on the pigs sector Neil Datson (Talking Point, Mar 24) accuses me of extreme carelessness in my pig costings. That was not a point he had the courtesy to put to me when he phoned me before writing his article. For the record, I did not muddle liveweight with deadweight. I stand by my figures.

A criticism more worthy of comment is that made by Mick Sloyan, who suggests that the unit cost of US pig production is about £0.53 per kg liveweight: some 24% lower than my estimate. However, Micks figures refer to 1998, whereas mine carry a weighting of 1997 and 1998. In 1998 US hog prices and feed costs fell 37% and 19% respectively. The difference in feed costs goes a long way towards reconciling the difference. In addition, my production costs included imputed labour costs for the farmer.

As my report made clear, all attempts to compare production costs are fraught with difficulties and comparisons based on one or two years can never be more than a crude guide. That is demonstrated by the US data for 1998; undoubtedly US production costs were lower than those in the UK, but US pig farmers were making heavy losses and therefore the position was not sustainable.

The comparison of US and English pig production costs was not the main focus of my report. My main purpose was to argue for a new mind-set among farmers and processors that would allow them to co-operate more closely in the future to lower production costs and meet more precisely the changing demands of consumers.

Neil Datsons pique, because he wants to believe the UK pig sector can never be competitive, reinforces my conviction of the need for a new more positive mind-set.

Sean Rickard.

Cranfield School of Management, Beds.

Milk campaigns must join forces

The proliferation of milk groups, action groups, associations and federations shows the frustration that the milk price crisis has created. But if these groups do not co-ordinate their actions and objectives, much of their work will become diluted.

Processors have more interest in their shareholders, than their suppliers. Neither is the government prepared to provide assistance. Although the popular Press has caned agriculture, it has put the crisis in the publics eye. That, combined with the apparent willingness of some supermarkets to look at retail pricing, must be grasped as a valuable opportunity.

The initiative should be supported with a co-ordinated countrywide presence of dairy farmers supporting their product within stores. At present milk is a faceless commodity. Face-to-face marketing is the only way to show to the public that we sell a quality product with the added value of both welfare and hygiene demands professionally met.

An innovative, presence over time, combined with Press coverage and a maintained pressure on processors and government, will gain the consumer support. That support is vital if the consideration of a retail price rise is to become a reality. We cannot afford for retailers to take a short-term marketing advantage at the expense of their customers, which could be portrayed as a further subsidy to farmers from the poor consumer.

Properly co-ordinated and managed, there is a real advantage to the retailer through raising the profile and image of milk and increasing sales turnover in the long term. The milk producer will also improve public image, which is important in political lobbying terms. The processor will be sidelined temporarily and will miss a marketing opportunity to develop the association that should exist vertically right through the milk supply chain. The opportunity then to develop regional branded milk, in which end users can identify and have confidence to support, also then has possibilities.

David Eagle

Cottonmist Holsteins, JW & FD Eagle, Devereux Farm, Kirby le Soken, Essex.

Lets form dairy farm federation

We have lost a marvellous opportunity in Milk Marque. When it was first started it had the backing of most farmers and was split up into four groups, north, south, east and west. That should have meant it was not a monopoly and the head of each organisation could have co-operated to plot the right way forward.

Instead, a monster was created which antagonised the dairies and the government helped to squash it. We are our own worst enemies and have been brainwashed into producing more, meaning that we are producing over quota. We then lease in quota at unjustified prices. The dairies and supermarkets see people paying stupid money to lease quota and think why shouldnt we have this money?

The supermarkets are pricing milk too cheaply, the dairies want cheaper milk from farmers and they want cheaper rents and input costs. But we should have a decent price for our commodity, not begrudge dairies their share or the supermarkets a realistic price. What about foreign imports? UK dairy farmers get the lowest price in the common market and these other farmers will want a fair living. But the government maintains a high £ and keeps us out of the euro.

If we press for higher milk prices, it would help in the short term. But, in the long term, it will mean peaks and troughs. From a bankers point of view, that works against the farmer as how can he help a farmer put substantial investment into his business knowing that in several years time he may not be able to pay his way?

We have a marvellous opportunity to control our best asset – quotas. We should set up a producer federation and charge membership fees. The federation should buy as much quota as it can to hold in our names. That could be added to, or withdrawn from, as the need arises.

D G Allen

Barden Farm, Main Road, Smalley, Derby.


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