16 February 2001


March for the UKs freedom

Many thanks for your invaluable support for the Countryside March in London on March 18.

We all recognise that this ludicrous proposal to ban hunting is the thin end of a very thick wedge. It would constitute a huge miscarriage of justice that is entirely symptomatic of this governments contemptuous attitude toward the rural community.

It lifts not a finger to help agriculture. It stands by while our legitimate exports are blocked and encourages imports which fail to meet our own stringent standards. It refuses to sanction our full EU compensatory entitlements and turns a blind eye to the fact that over 20,000 people a year have had to leave farming.

To cap it all, the government wastes valuable time and taxpayers money in order to introduce this nefarious Bill of Wrongs.

The proposal is a damning indictment of the policy of this government, whose members must be intelligent enough to have deduced its complications. The fox will be far worse off, as will the countryside and the delicate rural economy. The Bill has been spawned out of ignorance, prejudice and coercion. With its inherent threat to criminalise thousands of law-abiding citizens it would effectively turn Britain into a dictatorship and police state reminiscent of pre-war Germany.

We are united in our determination to see that these abominations are brought to the attention of the people of this free country of ours. For the sake of our children and future generations, it is our right and duty to do our utmost to preserve our countryside, our agriculture, our livelihood and our liberty. To ensure that we succeed join the march in London on March 18.

Tony Jervis

Winderton Farm, Winderton, Banbury, Oxon.

Feeling just like a fox at bay

I am fed up with having to justify my existence in the countryside but my depression has now turned into paranoia. If the aim of the anti-hunting lobby was to make country folk feel like a fox may feel when it hears the hounds find its scent, they have done a good job on me.

The move to ban hunting will undoubtedly move into every other area of value in the roots of England. The rot will get too strong a hold for us to do anything about it unless we deal with it now. Farmers are mainly an independent, self-sufficient and altruistic bunch who have the luxury of living and working where they want to.

But they also have all the misfortune of being treated like some giant cesspit for other people to dump all their rubbish in. And this is just the start. When landowners, tenant farmers and every other worker who depends on the land for their daily crust have finally been cleaned out, ask yourself who will be the winners? It certainly wont be us. And there is more than one way of skinning a cat – sorry, peeling a banana.

Cambs reader

Name and address supplied.

Hunters – take a lower profile

As a supporter of the Countryside Alliance and someone who will be attending the rally on Mar 18, I have to express a concern which I have about the pro-hunting lobby.

I am all for hunting and preserving our traditional ways of country life, but the Countryside Alliance rally will not just be about hunting.

Hunt supporters will, no doubt, be there in red jackets and blowing horns. But I feel that will merely antagonise people. It will annoy plenty of people on the March for one thing; people who may support every aspect of country life apart from hunting. I, therefore, feel that it would be prudent for these supporters to take a lover profile.

The issues at stake are extremely serious and it is important that the March has the maximum effect. There should be no risk of interested groups diverting attention from the main worries and concerns of country people. Remember that our countryside has only got everything to lose and nothing to gain.

Robert Cannon

The Forge, Maldon Road, Tiptree, Essex.

Are we all in this together?

The Grocer Yearbook is published by the leading grocery magazine to the retail trade. In the editorial of the latest edition, Clive Beddall claims: "In truth farmer relationships from farmer to grocer have never been more cordial." He also notes that: "The were all in this together philosophy has been noticeably spreading in recent months, replacing the them-and-us attitudes that have coloured the agrifood relationships for so long".

I am both a farmer and a marketing man and am surprised that Clive Bedall holds that view. Is it shared by dairy farmers?

Dairy producer

Name and address supplied.

Programme not a mouthpiece

Reading Nick Adames letter (Jan 19) made me wonder what sort of a programme he really wants.

Presumably one which does not question the origins and responsibilities behind the single greatest post-war crisis to hit British agriculture – namely BSE.

Presumably one which ignores the terrible human cost of CJD, which has already claimed more than 70 lives? Presumably one which does not question supermarket pricing policy? A series which, incidentally, won Farming Today a Sony Gold News Award.

Presumably one which ignores the plight of hill farmers. Last year Farming Today recorded a year in the life of a farming family.

Presumably one which ignores issues surrounding food safety? Or one which provides a five-day weather forecast for farmers every Monday?

To write: "Since the mid-90s I have heard barely a single news item which would have been of interest to a working farmer," strikes me as coming from someone who must live and work in extreme isolation. Isolation from the impact of organics, GMs, Westminster politicians, Brussels bureaucracy and just about everything else which affects what happens in the countryside today.

Farming Today is not perfect. But it is there. If it were just to become a mouthpiece for farmers it would inevitably fall victim to those who already ask why there isnt a special programme for steel workers, car workers or even bird-watchers.

Andrew Thorman

Editor, BBC Rural Affairs, Birmingham.

Farming Today reflects events

David Kelseys letter (Feb 2) about Farming Today surprised me. The programme is paid for, not by the farming industry, but by public money, so it is not "our own radio programme".

Furthermore, his outlook is sadly retrograde. Farms have been under floodwater, farmers livelihoods devastated by BSE, soil fertility is declining, pesticide bills rise as natural predators such as birds become rarer and bovine tuberculosis is increasing. Farmers who have suffered, or who are suffering from, such grave problems may think Farming Today is right to give prominence to them and to possible solutions. Unless they are solved, there may not be any farming tomorrow for farmers or consumers.

As for the time the programme is broadcast, should it not be put back to its old time of 6am to see if that increases its audience?

Ms Joyce Smith

6 Heycroft, Eynsham, Witney, Oxon.

Van risked his FAWL status

Recently my farm was inspected under the FAWL farm assurance scheme. Everything from the medicine cabinet to the feed store was inspected. But for one minor technical point everything was up to the required standard.

But from what I witnessed the previous day, everything is not up to farm assurance standard beyond the farm gate.

A consignment of seed barley was delivered to my farm in a small van and when the driver opened the rear doors, I was alarmed at what I saw. Inside were three pallets tightly packed together, the rear pallet contained boxes of lollipops, the front pallet contained trays of tinned food and sandwiched in between was a pallet loaded with bags of seed barley treated with chemicals to control pests and diseases.

Since when has it been legal to transport food for human consumption in the same vehicle as chemicals or chemically treated products? If the FAWL inspector had seen the pallet of chemically treated seed barley stacked alongside a pallet of cattle feed in my farms feed store, he would have withdrawn my farms assured status on the spot. So why do we farmers obey rules and regulations imposed on us and keep all the necessary paperwork that go with them while others, beyond the farm gate, all too often ignore them?

J Jones

Who will tend farms of future?

Im a farmers son pondering my future on a small-scale farm by todays standards. Can I point out to all the politicians and union leaders the recent oil slick disaster around the Galapagos Islands?

We can compare this to the never-ending crisis in UK farming. Both man-made disasters will have long term effects.

Most of the marine life around the Galapagos Islands will have died by the time the oil slick is cleaned up. It is exactly the same in the agricultural industry. Most of the young people will leave the agricultural industry by the time the politicians, the bureaucrats and farming union leaders have woken up to find that future agriculturists arent in place.

So if all these people want to keep seeing a green and pleasant land outside their garden hedgerows, they must be prepared to secure a viable livestock and crops industry for newcomers. Without these there wont be any countryside. It cannot be done by telling people to diversify into tourism and leisure that spoils the landscape for ever.

Robert Jones

Cefn Tryfar, Garndolbenmaen, Porthmadog, Gwynedd.

Ritual slaughter ban surely next

I write in total agreement with Mr James letter (Jan 12) concerning the ritual slaughter of livestock. I also believe that this cruel and outdated practice should be banned now that we have reached the year 2001. We all have to move with the times.

I am no racist, nor do I agree with all the fuss over hunting, but if this were the next animal welfare issue on Mr Blairs agenda, he would definitely secure a vote from me.

Betty Dewes

Lentons Lane Farm, Aldermans Green, Coventry.

Watch out for Euro U-turn

What a surprise; sugar beet growers are to have a short, pre-election reprieve. After mutilating the farming and rural community for the past four years, we will be subjected to the greatest display of political gymnastics in history as Millbank spin doctors try to wash every stain of Euro mire from two-faced Tony Blair.

He will be shown on TV and in the press as he becomes a vociferous defender of British interests in Europe. In collusion with his fellow European charlatans, he will have many victories and will be seen as anti-European.

But if he is re-elected, his boots will trample the beet growers in his haste to return to wallowing in the European cesspit. Be warned: The k means enslavement by unscrupulous and ruthless oppressors.

William Lucy

15 Maynard Park, Bere Alston, Yelverton, Devon.

Red tractor for UKgoods only

I must comment on Ben Gills letter (Feb 2) about the little red tractor, speaking as one who buys the goods that farmers are trying to sell. Much as the original idea for the red tractor was good, but its use has faded. Why? We want the red tractor to promote British foods, not foreign foods which achieve the same standard.

We are well aware that the tractor logo could be used on the German meat especially once any illegal material has been removed.

We also want the right to help our farmers during this time of hardship. That right has been taken away from us and I am fighting to win it back. I hope I am not on my own.

We do not want to buy imported meat. Why is any meat from the Continent being imported? I now seek out butchers who sell only British local meat. I would encourage butchers and supermarkets to use their own labels, especially on meat, reporting country of origin. That is a label most of us want but which the government can no longer give us.

An alternative action would be to fight to have the red tractor logo on British produce only. Now theres a fight and-a-half; lets go for it.

Anne Palmer

115 Cannock Road, Westcroft, Wolverhampton.

Why must we import food?

After reading an article entitled How far has your food travelled? My reaction was to ask not how far, but why? Why do we import green beans from Kenya or bacon from Denmark or strawberries from Spain? And why does most Cheddar cheese come from Ireland? What is going on?

It is important to ask why, when our dairy farmers are having their worst crisis since the 1930s, are we importing 173m litres of milk a year? Is it any wonder that our beleaguered farmers are hopping mad about the crisis in UKfarming?

In these bleak times, we the public, are constantly reminded to be energy conscious. We are told to go green by travelling less or to use the many park and ride schemes to reduce pollution. However, those in government advocating such common sense, are undermined by reports of pollution and unnecessary complications caused by the import of so many foods; which can, given the incentive, be grown here by our farmers.

At this time of crisis in the countryside, it is time the government supported our farmers in all possible ways, by reducing the influx of food from abroad, much of which comes by air. But aviation fuel is not subject to tax. The fuel farmers use is. Fuel cost inequality means our farmers cannot compete. That can never be right.

The government should help our farmers by taxing aviation fuel or removing tax from farmers fuel. Another way is to help farmers wishing to convert their land to organic food production. At present only 3% of UK farmland has been converted to organic production but the demand for organic food is enormous while 70% is imported.

Locally produced food is good for jobs, people, wildlife and the environment. Food less travelled means a reduction in health damaging pollution. It is also a more sensible use of our energy resources. Helping farmers by giving them a fair deal on fuel together with incentives to convert to organic production, is common sense.

Without our farmers we cannot survive. We owe it to them and ourselves to support their sterling work, by simplifying farming, not complicating it. Our most important industry deserves nothing less.

DJJ Harvey

18 Brookwell Close, Chippenham, Wilts.

Help our Party go with a swing

With the forthcoming election coming ever nearer, the problems of the countryside and farming in particular are not featuring highly on the agenda of the two main political parties. As I travel around Scotland and meet people who are hanging on by their fingernails to family farms with little or no hope of passing on their inheritance to the next generation, I wonder are we doing things right in this country?

Farmers have always relied on union representatives to argue, and more often plead, the case of the farmer. That is in the mistaken belief that the country will always need food, as people have to eat. But with cheap imports flooding our supermarkets, farmers have to do more to fight for their future.

The Countryside Party was formed in May 2000, to try to protect the traditional rural way of life for those who either work or take their pleasure from the countryside, and to be an addition to marching, letter writing and petition signing. Nothing focuses a politicians attention more than the thought of losing votes.

To that end, we are planning standing candidates in both the Westminster and local elections in May. We are still welcoming anyone who feels that they can stand up for what they believe and are willing to be candidates at the next election.

Jim Crawford

Chairman, The Countryside Party, The Croft, Sunnyside, Culloden Moor, Inverness.

Computing not another fashion

The E-revolution is not just another fashion. If you are unconvinced, how many times in the past 12 months have you been asked by a recording to push one, two or three on the phone? How many times have you seen a business address for In 1992 their were 50 web-sites and in fewer than 10 years the figure is nearer 50bn.

The desktop computer is no longer a glorified electric typewriter that can help organise business accounts. When plugged into a phone or fax they provide a connection to the worldwide web; the melting pot of the global village. With this method of communication many more functions are possible, including the ability to e-mail friends and family around the planet, join a chat room of like-minded people, play on-line bridge and check your bank account (since the local branch was closed).

You can also get a quote on fuel, chemical, potatoes or a weather forecast and put a bid in at a machinery auction or get some agronomy advice from ADAS and many other sites.

For the uninitiated, most people type with only two fingers, do be patient. Also do not open e-mail from unknown addresses, and remember, it does not have to cost the earth. Also, computers are developing so quickly that second-hand machines are available for those wanting to upgrade their two-year-old antique. I live in hope that the fat controllers release their stranglehold on the industry and deliver tariff-free connection.

John Hatton

Council policy is up to council

I cannot let the letter (Jan 12) by Mr and Mrs Guy, tenants of Gloucestershire county council, go unanswered.

They are missing the point. We have no influence upon the consequences of falling rents. If, as a result of falling rents, Gloucestershire county council has to adjust its smallholdings policy, that is its own matter.

We hope it does not have to dispose of the smallholdings it has won. But we as tenants do not want to, nor can we afford to, subsidise our landlords by paying a rent which is higher than we can afford just so the council is justified in retaining its smallholdings.

Mr and Mrs Guy are fortunate that they were offered a 20% reduction in rent. We were not and were forced to take the matter before an independent arbitrator. The arbitrator from outside the county came to a judgement after hearing all the evidence and looking at the farm. We were awarded a 16% reduction in rent. That is the first one this farm has ever had despite the massive reduction in farm incomes over the past four years.

Both parties agreed and requested an interim award. But having had that award, the council, our landlord, did not like what it saw and has taken the matter to the county court.

The stress of all of this, on top of the everyday farming pressures and worries, has been terrible.

Mrs Stafford

Stocks Farm, Standish, Stonehouse, Glos.

On-farm burial already banned

In his letter (Feb 2) Steven Smith hopes that on-farm burial will not be banned. Sorry to say, he is too late. The animal by-products (amendment) order 1997 S11997/2894, which came into effect on Jan 1, 1998, says that: "Any animal by-product can only be disposed of by: Rendering in an approved premises, complete incineration in an incinerator, burning other than in an incinerator or by burial if the by-product is in a place where access is difficult or the amount of by-product and the distance to approved rendering premises or an incinerator do not justify transporting it."

It cost me nearly £500 to find that out. Notts Trading Standards took me to court under the above act and, believe me, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

D Redgate

Fertiliser costs reflect market

I must comment on the words of John Lambkin (On Our Farms, Jan 26) in which he discussed this years fertiliser prices. I would like to answer a number of points. Liquid ammonium sulphate is a by-product from the chemical industry and will be priced at a level that reflects what the manufacturer believes he can get.

Their problem is one of disposal and in recent years they have subsidised farmers to enable them to rid themselves of a problem. Obviously they are now able to recoup some of that cost and are doing so. The ammonium nitrate market in the UK reflects the world supply/demand pattern and when commodities are in short supply price goes up. Has Mr Lambkin bought or sold straw recently? Prices of nitrogen fertiliser have risen less quickly in the UK than in the rest of Europe where Germany, for example, has seen a 100% rise in urea prices. The tonnage of imports has increased in the current season and the number of countries bringing ammonium nitrate or urea to the UK has been no less than 15.

Of these only three, Poland, Ukraine and Russia are subject to anti-dumping duties. The likely impact of market forces on the price of nitrogen was highlighted by the manufacturers at the beginning of the season and farmers were given every opportunity to minimise the cost by buying early. As Mr Lambkin says, his decision was a bad one.

The value that a farmer gets from a material is individual. By that I mean that it is unlikely that Easton Lodge needs sulphur because of the amount of animal manure being returned to the soil. That farm will place little value on the sulphur in ammonium sulphate and it could be argued that there is a negative value because of the acidifying nature of the product. Other farmers pay significant premiums for sulphur and get big benefits from it.

Farmers and fertiliser manufacturers are affected by the whims of the market. Farmers must ensure that the inputs they buy represent the best value for them and, generally, you get what you pay for.

Richard Martin

Market development manager, Terra Nitrogen (UK) Ltd, Florence House, Pearson Court, Stockton-On-Tees.

Election snags on NFU Council

I want to take issue with your article "NFU members speak out over lack of power" (News, Feb 2). While I agree with some of the article, it is untrue that there are no current Council members who have been elected.

I went to a number of Somerset Groups AGMs in 1999 and proposals were sought for Council nominations. All the groups I attended put forward the same two names. Those names then went forward to the county AGM, where all members could attend and the two sitting members were elected by the membership at the AGM.

The article mentions that Derek Mead was elected by a clear majority of the Somerset membership. Just over 14% of the members voted for Derek and 13% for the other two candidates. At worst you could say that 86% did not want Derek and at best you could say that 73% could not care less who was elected.

Groups elect their representatives to the county forum, the county elect their representatives to the region and the region elects their representatives to London HQ. Anyone who goes as a HQ milk representative has been elected by the membership. In the south-west only elected representatives have a vote for HQ delegates. I would, however, agree that anyone with foresight, like Derek, is sadly seen as an outcast.

Having spent five years of trying to get some professionalism into regional committees and to get them to reorganise to be proactive rather than reactive, I have some support for the views expressed. Not only do written proposals get binned at national level but also at local level. A member said the other day that we need to get our group structures active and buoyant, which will resolve problems higher up.

When 73% of the voting electorate cannot be bothered to vote, what chance do we have and just for whom are the rest of us fighting?

Mike Amos

Does ewe hold lamb record?

I have a Lincoln Longwool ewe which is 26 years old and has just lambed for the 24th time. In total she has produced 40 lambs. Is this a record?

R W Carlton

Post Office Farm, Minting, Horncastle, Lincs.

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