7 August 1998


This booklet is absolutely senseless…

My brain is in turmoil, my eyes cannot focus and I am sitting at the table with a zombiefied expression on my face. Too many pints of scrumpy? I hear you ask. No. I wish it was. At least I would have an excuse.

I have just finished reading my copy of the explanatory notes from the British Cattle Movement Service information pack. It has taken me 52min to read the accompanying booklet and I am as confused now as when I started reading it.

I always thought I was reasonably intelligent and could take on board most information that was presented to me, but not tonight. Perhaps age is catching up with me.

I have to admit that I just do not understand it. Perhaps a few visits to the loo with the booklet will help me to see through it more clearly. At least there will be one movement that I can understand.

My instinct tells me that now is a good time to throw up my hands in a "reach for the sky" type gesture of surrender, sell all the cattle and spend the rest of my days on income support. Compared with trying to understand these guidance notes, it seems like a very good idea.

As a post script, I note that the last words printed in the guidance booklet are: "We hope this booklet has given a clear explanation of the new style cattle passports, but it is not a definitive statement of law."

See you all in the dole queue.

Chris Stokes

Woon Farm, Carbis, Roche, St Austell, Cornwall.

Farmers Ferry must stay afloat

As a fully paid-up subscriber to the Farmers Ferry, I am writing to urge all producers, sheep or otherwise to seize a rare opportunity to secure a corner of the sheep market and to free themselves from the hands of the supermarkets, a fate currently suffered by beef producers and vegetable growers. It will be no use saying when the price of lambs falls and we are cornered "if only!"

An extra buyer in the market has always improved our prices – more export means more markets and there is a market in Europe for our lambs and mature sheep. Let us make this scheme work, do we have any alternative?

Donations are needed urgently to meet the target of £1.3m, so lets back this ambitious scheme and show everyone that farmers are quite capable of doing something for themselves.

Subscription forms are available from local farming union representatives or auctioneers. Do not delay, send your cheque today.

Laurence Harris

Ffos y Ficer Farm, Abercych, Boncath, Pembrokeshire.

Ministers must back initiative

Be more sufficient, stand on your own feet and meet the challenge of the world market is the cry from those in power.

That is exactly what farmers are doing in their bid to establish an export ferry for livestock. But the government is noticeably quiet with its support.

Where is our farm minister, or for that matter, our Welsh Secretary? They should be the first to applaud those who are taking this great step forward.

Support from those at the top is not only essential, but would do so much to bolster the enterprise shown by those involved.

Royston Jones

Gwarlian, Lanfihangel Nant Bran, Brecon, Powys.

Walkers destroy precious wildlife

As a farmers wife and countryside lover, I should like to bring to the attention of like-minded people the thoughtlessness and damage caused by a minority.

I hear and read a lot of debate about the condition of public footpaths and rights of way.

First, if these footpaths were frequently used there would be no need for mowing because the paths would establish themselves. I see approximately eight to 10 walkers a year. Second, about half of those I do see, dont follow permitted routes and choose to walk through our farmyard with no regard for livestock or, I hasten to add, their own personal safety. Our farm is a busy commercial enterprise with large and dangerous machinery operating.

An example of thoughtlessness by the minority occurred recently when an organised walk round Welbourn took place. At some point during the week prior to this a ride-on mower cut a path along a field which borders our garden fence. My children were the first to point this out when they returned from school and told me that "Mrs Partridge had gone and her 11 eggs were broken!". They were destroyed by the mower that cut the path for the dozen or so walkers that passed our house on that organised walk.

I would guess that had the path been used previously "Mrs Partridge" may not have nested there in the first place! Countryside conservation of hedgerows and wildlife is in the interest of us all. All I ask is that ramblers and their supporters use a little more common sense. Please dont go blustering into the countryside without a thought for anything but "your right" to be there.

Since marrying my husband eight years ago, I have seen life from another side and am aware of the general hostility towards farming.

It seems to me that most people are now so far removed from agriculture that they dont realise that their pre-packed joints of meat or poultry, bread, flour, milk and vegetables come from farms, not supermarkets.

Will it really take another war or world food shortage to boost the farmers image?

Susan Ireland

Southern Barn Farm, Welbourn, Lincs.

Poor support for voluntary access

Your recent article "Praise for coastal access initiative" (News, July 17) promotes the Dunraven Estate in South Wales as a successful example of access in the countryside being provided voluntarily.

The Dunraven Estate is indeed a success story for the voluntary approach, but rather than being one of the many, it is one of the few. It is precisely the failure of other landowners over the last 50 years to duplicate its achievements that has prompted the governments demands for increased access to mountain, moor, heath, down and common land – not over farmland, crops or through peoples back gardens as some have sought to suggest.

The CLAs voluntary option has proved to be unworkable and prohibitively expensive. Not only is it extremely difficult to find out about such voluntary access, but access that has been granted under such agreements can be withdrawn at any time.

Furthermore, if the land changes hands, access can disappear overnight. Add to this the time and money involved in negotiating access to individual sites all round the country and it is hardly surprising it has taken so long to achieve so little.

David Beskine

Assistant director (Access), The Ramblers Association, 1-5 Wandsworth Road, London.

ACCS rules are plain ridiculous

Could somebody tell me who dreamed up some of the regulations for joining ACCS? Of what possible interest to the supermarkets is wind speed when spraying? Has anybody put in their records – strong wind, sprayed 20 acres? Of course not. Record keeping to the average farmer is like asking him to go sightseeing in London.

If the merchants were doing their testing at the intake pits (and of course ports) properly and thoroughly, instead of passing the buck to the farmer once again, we would not need more bureaucracy and form filling, not to mention cost.

NFU "committee farmers" have promoted and financed this scheme (Yes, financed). From whom did they get their mandate? Judging by the letters in farmers weekly in recent months, certainly not farmers.

W P Morton

Newnham Grange Farm, Daventry, Northants.

Crops scheme is just a scam

What a wonderful article by Charlie Flindt on the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme (Talking Point, July 24). Obviously Mr Flindt is a very practical farmer while those who dreamed up the scheme must be theorists.

The only thing I would add to Mr Flindts article is how the devil do you keep rooks, pigeons, badgers etc from defecating on any laid areas of crop.

I dont know of any farmer who has joined the scam, sorry scheme.

Roger Nobbs

Castle Farm, Clifton Road, Deddington, Banbury, Oxon.

Inform OFT of unfair pressure

Those of us within the NFU and the Federation of Small Businesses who are fighting the ACC Scheme, Assured Produce and all other trade imposed schemes are asking all independent minded, freedom loving farmers and growers to complain to the Office of Fair Trading about the inequity and unfairness of these costly and unnecessary dictatorial schemes.

If you have any evidence of trade pressure to join these assurance schemes please send that, together with your complaint.

The more evidence of trade pressure and bullying tactics sent to the OFT, the sooner we will be able to commit these lunatic schemes to the dustbin of history – where they belong.

Your letter may be the straw which breaks the camels back.

Having just returned from Brussels I can confirm that none of these schemes have yet received EU approval.

Please write to Office of Fair Trading, Competition Policy Division, Field House, Breams Building, London EC4A 1PR (0171-211 8000).

Dick Lindley

Birkwood Farm, Altofts, Normanton, West Yorks.

Farm minister is unqualified

Hands up if you do not know anything about agriculture? That must have been Mr Blairs question when he was looking for a new farm minister because Jack Cunninghams replacement has no farming background and no agricultural or rural training.

Before entering politics the new minister worked in advertising for Procter and Gamble. He has been in the Shadow Cabinet with responsibilities as front bench spokesman on various subjects including legal affairs, treasury and economic affairs and health.

None of that provides him with sufficient experience to be minister of agriculture, let alone fisheries and food. It is a sad reflection on the importance the government attaches to the future of agriculture.

George T Paton

Hill Farm, Haversham, Milton Keynes.

No appeal over MAFF penalties

Time was, and not so long ago either, that a mistake or a misunderstanding on a MAFF form could be cleared up with a brief and friendly telephone call. There was a feeling that farmer and official were on the same wavelength.

Now things seem to have changed. Harmless mistakes are penalised arbitrarily by loss of subsidies or other payments accompanied by the threat of more severe sanctions. It seems that what is given with one hand can equally be taken away with the other. I am not talking of efforts to defraud the public purse but of trivial mistakes made, often under pressure, in answering seemingly inappropriate and ambiguous questions.

Would it not be possible and just to have some impartial body to which farmers could go for arbitration in these cases? Life for the farmer is scarcely a bed of roses and, in all too many cases, grants and subsidies are the difference between break-even and considerable loss.

David Griffiths

Piper Farm, Long Whatton, Loughborough, Leics.

Co-operation on shop floor

There has been much talk recently about the need for farmers, particularly dairy farmers, to co-operate if they are to weather the difficult times. Most of this advice has been for co-operation in the form of buying, marketing and processing groups. That is obviously sound but I feel we farmers need to step back and see how we can work together at the production end.

There are many dairy farmers large and small who for a variety of reasons are not getting an adequate return for their labours. There are also quota holders leasing out quota who run the risk of losing some of this valuable asset through the siphon if, and when, proposals for CAP reform are adopted. There are also undoubtedly a large number of producers selling up who may not realise that there is a very real alternative which safeguards their assets and gives them a regular income.

Many farmers such as myself are wishing to expand and willing to take on extra cows and quota to milk on a contract basis. The advantages to both parties are many and the contract arrangement is basically very straightforward. I have taken advice from the Farm Consultancy Group who has designed the contract to follow the necessary EU rules to safeguard producer status and quota ownership which are vital.

To all those farmers who are considering giving up milk production, or who lease out their quota, this arrangement is very well worth considering. It gives a long-term sustainable income stream while retaining the advantages of trading status without the hassle of the day-to-day running of the farm.

T Edwards

Edwards & Son, West End Farm, Shilton, Burford, Oxon.

Big retailers offer big choice

I was surprised to read your editorial (Opinion, July 10) regarding Sainsburys stand at the Royal Show.

Sainsbury and other big retailers are the principal outlets for most of the output of British farms and, therefore, make a significant indirect contribution to the maintenance of the appearance of the countryside. Without them consumers would be deprived of an unrivalled choice of high quality food. Without them growers like ourselves would be unable to develop in the planned way in which we have.

The NFU/retailer partnership has embraced integrated farming principles, introducing crop protocols and now the assured produce scheme. They have inspired whole farm verification and wildlife conservation projects in conjunction with bodies such as FWAG.

As farmers we are vulnerable to media-hyped food scares, such as BSE. Initiatives in which supermarkets have invested considerable time and money have proven to be a proactive and a sound defence in allaying the fears of the consumer.

Sainsburys work in this area has been exemplary and I was delighted that they promoted the concept to the Royal Show audience, both to the consumers and to other farmers who still need encouragement to join.

Remember, it is consumers who call the tune with their purchasing choice – not the supermarkets.

John Shropshire

Hainey Farm, Barway, Ely, Cambs.

Where have the pig eaters gone?

Has the country stopped eating pig meat?

This morning I received payment for three cull sows and one cull boar of £187 in total.

Also this morning I received an invoice for seven gilts priced at £173 a head.

This is a regular order placed each month with a major breeding company.

One wonders if the "pain" is being shared equally. I, for one, will be forced to vote with my cheque book.

Bill Barr

Dane End Farm, Redbourn Road, St Albans, Herts.

Spill beans on bacon imports

As harvest gets under way our thoughts turn to planning next years crops. High-yielding feed grains will no doubt be the order of the day.

Hopefully, prices will be better than this season. But there is no guarantee.

The situation could improve if we didnt import feed grain in such large quantities. Every time a consumer buys 1kg of imported pig meat we are importing at least 7kg of imported gain. Just think how many consumers are doing just this. It is also true with poultry meat, with even Bernard Matthews switching production to Europe.

You may wonder what we farmers can do about it. You take an hour out of your week and go shopping at the supermarket, go to the bacon counter and look at all that Danish bacon made from French grain.

Ask the person behind the counter for the manager. If the manager is slow to come forward, start explaining the poor conditions in which those Europeans keep their pigs. For example: Sows in tether houses, very early weaning into batteries and on to the dark, environmentally controlled fattening house.

The manager will come very quickly. If enough of us in our industry can be bothered to do this the message will get through.

D Bowie

Tower Farm, Hartest, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

See more