29 June 2001


DEFRA- still same pin-stripes

So MAFF has become the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. How exciting or at least it would be if we didnt know that behind the new stage manager the crew consists of the same pin-striped people who have made such a mess of the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

Until the offices are staffed by people with at least one years experience of working on a farm things arent going to get better. If they had to wade through calf-deep, wellie-sucking mud to feed cattle or pick up the bodies of lambs drowned in flooded pastures, perhaps the movement licences would have been tied in a little less red tape.

My husband started our farm with a few acres rented from his gran and then bought ground as it became available, so our farm is very scattered. The three-week rule applied to licences is a real problem. Most of our pastures will feed our animals for only two weeks. Normally, we would move them on – but who in a London office would understand that?

Jane Millard

Orchardleigh, Knowle Hill, Chew Magna, Bristol.

Will views fall on DEF ears?

Is it a coincidence that MAFF has been swallowed up by a department whose name starts with the initials DEF?

Norma Bryson

Church Farm, Stretton-on-Dunsmore, Rugby, Warks.

Environment is farming…

We have to convince Department for Evironment, Food and Rural Affairs, and everyone else, that the environment is farming. Or, put another way, farming is what creates the environment. If farmers are not able to care for the environment, who will?

We might as well admit that we cannot compete in terms of intensively produced food, the farming equivalent of mass production, with countries which have neither scruples nor rules about how they treat their land and their animals.

We must build up our reputation as farmers with a social conscience. Modern technology – strong agrochemicals, massive machines, information technology may be essential for large-scale manufacturing.

Farming is not and should not be that sort of activity. The ambitious, who aspire to operating on a grand scale and getting rich in the process, will have to curb their ambitions. It is not as if they were even making large profits now anyway.

If farming is to survive, "restructuring" must enable human-scale units to flourish. The farmer must have time to care properly for his land and his animals. If he is to care for the environment, he must be able to live a decent life, not have to half kill himself with over work.

Our ambition must be not more and cheaper, but better food, coupled with better care for the environment as an integral part of farming. In making that our policy, we can point out the impossibility of competing with the import of cheap food produced in ways that are unpleasant, and frequently illegal.

Consumers need not fear big price rises if cheap imported food is curtailed. There will always be plenty of competition among our farmers to keep prices reasonable. But they might, with luck, steady at a level which keeps plenty of farmers in the countryside to look after it.

Pippa Woods

Osborne Newton, Aveton Gifford, Kingsbridge, Devon.

Handling of F&M atrocious

The foot-and-mouth virus may be dormant in Northumberland, but it is still devastating surrounding counties. Some of these recent outbreaks are in previously clean areas. That only goes to show that it is possible this area could see further outbreaks in the near future.

At a meeting in London on April 24, Prof Brown and Doctor Barteling, two highly respected scientists, both of whom have an intimate knowledge of F&M, and both disgusted at the barbaric attitude adopted by the British government concerning this outbreak, strongly recommended swab testing, blood testing and vaccination.

The excuses they were given by the governments science group for not following this advice were on the grounds of the apparent inability of vets and farmers, to handle farm animals in their care efficiently enough to carry out swab or blood sampling and/or vaccination. That perceived skill deficiency renders the testing process "uneconomic", making culling cheaper and easier! The culling policy however, is not getting rid of the virus.

Many businesses have had no option but to close down. Employees have had to face redundancy, and several men have been driven to suicide. Surely this calls for a public inquiry into the incompetence with which this crisis has been handled by the present government.

Lynne Thompson

2 West Cottages, Doxford

Carlisle cant be shot of them…

If Carlisle, at the centre of the worst foot-and-mouth outbreak, cannot remove Labour, what hope is there for the rest of the countryside?

Mrs Anthea Aldous

South Lane Farm, Moorsholm, Saltburn, Yorks.

Yes I can, no you cant

A farming client asked me recently whether he was allowed to vaccinate his animals against foot-and-mouth and where he could find vaccine?

The answer is yes under the Animal Diseases Act of 1950, followed by the 1972 order, followed by the 1982 amended act, followed by the 1983 order, passed by the sovereign parliament of the UK; at the discretion of the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs.

But under the EU directive 85/511 (issued by the un-elected EU Commission), which overrides any laws passed by our own parliament, the answer is no.

However, we were given permission in April, by the commission, to vaccinate at our own discretion. In the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs almighty wisdom, that permission has not been exercised.

One of the most frequently used arguments for not vaccinating has been the subsequent loss of our export status. I would draw everybodys attention to the amazing quantities of beef we have been selling to the EU since the re-establishment of our export status in that market.

We are meeting the French government in the European Courts in answer to its continuing illegal ban on British beef. What level of damages is our government seeking should we be successful?

Peter Weston-Davies

Farm Consultancy Group, The Lodge, Waddington, Lincs.

A rose by any other name…

MAFF is now DEFRA. New name, same bungling twits?

Peter Roberts

Blable Farm, St Issey, Cornwall.

Tarnishing the image of Britain

Any government with policies which are ineffective in dealing with problems when they arise in farming and tourism should not be in office. These two industries go hand in hand and it is important that they run as smoothly as possible.

If the government does not do a good job in sorting out the mess created by foot-and-mouth, it is harmful to the image of Britain abroad and more important, more farmers will quit the industry.

It remains to be seen, now that the general election has taken place, how the politicians get to grips with the problems and make these two industries shine again for the future of rural Britain.

I should like to see a system where more people are encouraged to take on the countryside lifestyle. I would completely do away with factory farming. It does not interest me and is cruel to animals. Whether family farmer or crofter, I want every farmer to be awarded fairly for what he or she produces.

Not every farmer gets the chance to farm the prime land in the British Isles.

Jim Braid,

Croft House, Keir St. Bridgend, Perth.

Twenty years of satisfaction

Your Opinion (June 14) said agriculture needs new talent to help the industry rebuild after the foot-and-mouth crisis and says praising the benefits of working in British agriculture would be a good start. I agree with that sentiment, but how about some praise for those who work in the industry now?

In my experience farm staff are very dedicated people who work all hours. They are just as devastated by the effects of disasters like F&M as the farmers they work for.

As for the benefits of working in the industry, I am head stockman on the farm I first worked on as a sandwich year student nearly 20 years ago.

Despite the many problems farming has faced in recent years, I have found the job satisfaction I am sure I would not have found doing anything else.

Andy Elmes

Manor Farm, Broughton, Aylesbury, Bucks.

RSPCA views way over top

I refer to the article "RSPCA candidates raise fears of a tough stance on farming" (News, June 8) which quotes Jacqueline Denham, a business adviser from St Austell, Cornwall.

I was appalled to find that someone could make such an obvious untrue generalisation about the way farmers care for their animals. As an Australian, I was unused to seeing animals housed but soon appreciated the need for housing in the winter.

That was not to "prevent the animal exercising and needing more fodder" but to prevent them from becoming bogged down in mud and ruining the first crop of grass each spring.

I understand that it costs more to house and feed them than to leave them outside. But few farmers have enough land to let them trample pasture. Also, it takes more work to house them as they have to have that area cleaned out daily.

I appreciate that the RSPCA probably sees only the rare exceptions of poor farming where the persons concerned do not care. But, on behalf of all dedicated farmers, I find the generalisation offensive, and unprofessional. In fact, if her views are representative of many RSPCA members, it makes the integrity of that organisation questionable.

I would like to know what I can do to turn round the opinion of such people, other than by supporting the NFU. Thank you for this thought-provoking article which raised my awareness.

Marie Cradock

13 Belmont Close, Shaftesbury, Dorset.

Hybrid shows improvement

I have read with considerable interest the comments by fellow oilseed rape breeders in recent issues. As a leading breeder of both inbred and hybrid oilseed rape, I would like to add the following comments.

Clearly it has taken longer for the yield and performance of hybrid rapeseed to be demonstrated in improved varieties than most breeders thought would be the case a few years ago. But recent additions to the recommended list will give the grower a choice of a very high yield potential with the variety Royal or a high seed yield combined with the best oil content and lowest glucosinolate content with the variety Disco.

From my observations of both private and official trials this year, hybrid varieties appear to be coping with cold, wet soils and poor growing conditions better than inbred varieties. It will be interesting at harvest

to see if this difference, which is more marked this year, will be translated in better yields and grower returns.

With improved hybrid and very promising inbred varieties in the pipeline, the UK grower can look forward to some real improvements in the UK oilseed rape crop. This should allow the grower to take full advantage of the developing market for oilseed rape particularly in the industrial and biofuel area.

Dr R W Jennaway

Technical director, Saaten Union (UK) Ltd, Field Station, Bradley Road, Cowlinge, Newmarket Suffolk.

Obstacles on planning road

I suggest the biggest obstacle in obtaining planning consent for redundant farm buildings is the attitude of the county councils highways departments (Features, May 11).

These will probably claim that more traffic will be generated after conversions.

The way to defeat this is twofold. Ask the road safety officer for details of any accidents along your stretch of road. There may be none. Record existing traffic movements, milk tanker, herd movements, feed lorries, etc, in your diary for a week. Contrast that with perhaps a few transit vans that may be involved in new enterprises.

It is hard for the highwaymen to hypothesise against recorded facts. A working farm invariably generates considerably more and wider traffic than the average six-man joinery firm. It is all a matter of degree.

David Patten

Merry Marketing, 11 Overlands, North Curry, Taunton, Somerset.

No answers on single currency

In February I wrote to the president of the NFU asking what he estimated the cash benefit to British farmers would be if the UK joined the single currency at a rate equivalent to 2.9 DM to the pound. That was the lowest possible rate envisaged by David Brown, HSBC international economist, when he addressed this years NFU AGM.

By return Ben Gill replied saying that "the question you pose will require a little research. I promise to give you a fuller reply next week".

At the end of April I wrote again to my namesake seeking a response to my question but no answer was given.

The fact that the NFU is so reluctant to quantify the benefit of entering the single currency at 2.9DM, or any other rate for that matter, is cause for concern. While there is an easy way into Economic and Monetary Union, there is no way out and, in any case, why should we believe that the collectivity of our economy will be more successful than the collectivity of agriculture has been?

Christopher Gill

Chairman, The Freedom Association, Room 222, Southbank House, Black Prince Road, London.

Sold out to food imports

The cost of a shotgun licence has risen from £18 in 1996 to £40 in 2001. Mounting fixed costs and reduced returns make farming uneconomic and ever more desperate.

The government is handing food production for Britains consumers over to importers. There is a consistent annual increase in the amount of imported food and it is wrong to believe that we are over-producing food in Britain. This industry needs grass roots support for a leadership based on radical proposals.

The government could address high land prices and high bank charges with a buy up scheme and government-backed bank. After all, government is responsible for preventing the use of land for tax avoidance.

Who, other than farmers, considers producing goods where the end market is unknown, uncertain and uncosted. Some regulation is needed, starting with import controls. I cannot lay off a beef herd as Ford lays off workers.

An early retirement scheme should be introduced to give an opportunity to young people. County council farms should be re-introduced and managed effectively.

Traceability and complete transparency will bring markets back if regional co-operation is effective. And upland farm financial support is essential. Short growing seasons, elevation and poor soil quality make life difficult. Most of Scotland cannot compete with land in the European plains.

Government should recognise that the family farming unit is the environment; as it has been known for centuries. We have enough large farms and small farms. Ranching is not the answer for the countryside, but the family farm can sustain a whole local industry.

Giles Wynne

Glenshamrock Farm, Auchinleck, Ayrshire.

Browns empty promises

Throughout the current foot-and-mouth saga, former farm minister Nick Brown promised farmers "compensation". MAFF purchased animals and shot them as government property. But have any farmers received this promised payment in addition to the sale price of their stock? If not, why not?

Sally Baker

Well Farm, Adversane, Billingshurst, W. Sussex.

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