9 November 2001


A cuddly read for scientists

What a relief it is to know that DEFRA scientists now know that cows and sheep are different animals. To avoid reoccurrence of this problem, I recommend all DEFRA staff are provided with the A-Z of Cuddly Animals. This is a wonderful book; not only are there lovely illustrations of all the different cuddly animals, it is also an introduction to the wonderful world of reading.

Because all the animals are cuddly, and none are depicted eating farmers crops or, (worse still) each other, the book provides up-to-the-minute urban thinking on all environmental issues. And it would save DEFRA staff the arduous task of reading Watership Down at a later date. This little book would provide great value for money to the taxpayer. DEFRA might like to commission a special edition with the cows and sheep portrayed in their natural habitat on top of cosy, log pyres.


Confusing for DEFRA staff?

While we applaud your Farming Guide for DEFRA (Features, Oct 26) and agree that such a guide is needed, we are concerned that it might compound DEFRAs confusion.

The item in the centre of the bottom row, labelled milk (from cows) looks like some of the milk from sheep which we produce on our farm. It could even be mistaken for some of the milk from goats that we have seen. We suggest it would be prudent to advise DNA tests to avoid further embarrassing confusion over whether milk is bovine, ovine or caprine.

Karen & Lawrence Wright

Middle Campscott Farm, Lee, Ilfracombe, Devon.

Only a scraper keeps us going

"Mud, mud, glorious mud, nothing quite like it for cooling the blood." So go the words of the song but I find quite the reverse. Our progress has been severely slowed, if not stopped, by copious amounts of the stuff. It sticks to almost every part of any soil engaging equipment we try to use – particularly our potato harvester and grader.

Could manufacturers look more closely at the design of their tackle to ensure it can work effectively on heavy land beyond mid-September? We need machines that dont require a band of dedicated staff scraping off tonnes of mud, slimy, sticky or compacted, at regular intervals during the season, causing major downtime.

The only thing keeping many thousand £s worth of technically advanced machinery moving is not even listed in the parts book. It is something my grandfather would have been familiar with – the humble scraper. It comes in all shapes and sizes and we have many unique designs; all with one aim – to keep the wheels turning.

Chris Metson,

Berwick Farm Cottage, Abbess Roding, Ongar, Essex.

HGCA is good value for money

Oliver Walstons suggestion of abolishing the HGCA (Talking Point, Oct 26) may have struck a chord with arable farmers desperate to reduce outgoings, but his arguments fail to relate cost to value.

In difficult times growers need to be sure that they are getting maximum returns from HGCAs investment in research and market information. That was confirmed when over 1000 farmers responded to an independent audit of HGCAs activities, recognising the benefits:

&#8226 We provide information to help growers understand and respond to todays volatile markets and how to grow for them. Our regular series of publications, supported by the seminar programme, delivers relevant and timely information and interpretation of world markets. The UK Recommended Lists for cereals and oilseeds, financed by HGCA, are a trusted source of independent information on varieties to meet market needs.

&#8226 Grain exports, about 4m tonnes a year, are a valuable contribution to the economy and we work with the trade to develop relationships and promote the quality of UK grain in our overseas markets. This has seen dividends with the opening of markets across Europe and North Africa.

&#8226 Independent R&D and technology transfer is a major investment aimed at enabling growers to improve production techniques and profitability within the changing environment. An independent assessment of HGCA research estimated that for every £1 of levy paid by growers they received a return of £6.

&#8226 We work with the industry to present a series of free roadshows and forums for growers starting this month, packed with research results and market information.

&#8226 HGCA facilitates improved liaison and understanding across the industry from grower to processor. The Cereal Sellers Checklist and Malting Barley Guide are practical results.

&#8226 Our Enterprise Awards encourage innovative ideas for increasing the use of UK grain and most directly support small farming businesses.

At the end of 1999 all cereal and oilseed growers were invited to receive regular, free information on HGCA activities, events and research findings and 27,000 signed up. If Oliver Walston had chosen to receive this information, then the benefits of HGCAs research and market information would not have passed him by. If he, or any other UK levy-payer, would like to sign up we would be delighted to add them to our list.

Paul Biscoe

Chief executive, HGCA, Caledonia House, 223 Pentonville Rd, London.

Assurance is a stealth tax

I write in support of Oliver Walstons HGCA complaint (Talking Point, Oct 26). I have just succumbed to my auctioneers blackmail and sent off my cheque for £99.88 to enrol in FABBL.

I see this scheme as no more than another stealth tax and a means of forcing me to financially support the Meat and Livestock Commission. This is one more expensive quango already being duplicated by several similar government brainchildren. It has long since outgrown any usefulness it was erroneously designed to perform. Surely what with BSE, foot-and-mouth, illegal export bans, and Mrs Beckett, we struggling livestock producers need cheering up, not loading up with extra costs.

Harry Shutkever

Wythwood Farm, Wilmore Lane, Wythall, Nr Birmingham.

Oliver confused cost with value

Fifteen or so years ago I listened to Oliver Walston tell his audience at Reading University that the luxury that had to go was his Porsche. How things have changed if the perceived luxury for the chop now is the HGCA levy.

Mr Walston appears to have made the common mistake of confusing cost with value as a recent study confirmed what scale of return the levy-payer was receiving on his investment of 40p/t. Unless my memory deceives me, Mr Walston has long been an exponent of global trade and subsidy-free farming. Thus the importance of the overseas markets for our cereals and cereal products should be all too obvious to him.

Strangely, every other major exporting nation supports an export promotion body, so his logic would suggest that all cereal farmers in major producing countries are being ripped-off. Undoubtedly, one way or another, it is farmers that pay for their services.

I think that rather than catalogue the list of successes by HGCA over the years, it might be more constructive and informative for your readers if Mr Walston accompanied one of our overseas missions to report back on the value of this work. Sadly, though, unless my budget is increased considerably, the levy-payer may be disappointed to hear that I will have to bring him back at the end of the mission overseas.

By the way, what car does he drive now?

Simon Browne

Chairman British Cereal Exports, Meyrick Estates, Upper Farm, Headbourne Worthy, Winchester.

Dont pay BPC levy increase

May I, through farmers weekly, express my wholehearted support for Ian Crawford and his comments (Arable, Oct 19) regarding the British Potato Council. I urge all levy payers not to pay any increase.

It was only the interference of MAFF that left the BPC in existence at the last vote. Perhaps DEFRA will have more sense?

John Woods

Gerard Hall, Aughton, Nr Ormskirk, Lancs.

F&M proved drain on tax

As a taxpayer, I see my tax money being wasted.

The initial foot-and-mouth outbreak could have been arrested in this country as swiftly as it was in Ireland, France and Holland. Vaccination could have been tried when a fresh outbreak occurred in a new area. When the Prime Minister becomes more preoccupied with Britain than the world, he may see the logic of a public inquiry into his governments handling of the plague.

If Jo Moore can apologise for her abuse of communications resources, so can he. The truth has been outed. It does not matter if government scientists are from MAFF or DEFRA, they are neither able to sift wheat from chaff nor tell sheep from cattle. At least taxpayers can tell offal from waffle.

The Haskins Report may be welcome in some areas. It comes from a friend of Mr Blairs whose farming records indicate that he cuts more corn to pay his bank interest than farm profit. He suggests farmers show more resourcefulness.

That is rich coming from a government in such trouble that the Chancellor is having to sell off Treasury silver. Does the same happen to a government as to a gyroscope when it runs out of spin?

Donough McGillycuddy

Henbank House, Haselbech, Northants.

Thanks FW for my stress relief

Once again, I am turning to farmers weekly for my stress relief in the current farming crisis. I am passionate about the survival of British farmers and food producers.

Sadly, our government wants to dispense with farmers one way or another. So I spend hours trying to put a letter together criticising government policies whenever it puts another nail in the farming coffin. I tell my husband: We must do something, not sit at home complaining.

Thank you farmers weekly for a great magazine which is a constant source of information in the changing world of agriculture.

Rosemary Gobbin

Chase House Farm, Wyre Road, Pershore, Worcs.

Deal with our terrorists first

With autumn drilling finished, I paused to wonder why I had struggled with the elements once more to produce grain for a society which believes that food should come from a foreign country and cost less than the British farmer can produce it for.

How long would the cheap "un-censored" foreign food last when food production has ceased in this country? Has the Prime Minister paused to think about the volatile state the world is in? I think not, he jumps both feet first to help the Americans and claims he is going to rid the world of terrorists. There are plenty in this country to exterminate.

I cannot define the difference between a terrorist who flies an aircraft into the World Trade Centre or one that plants a bomb under a horse-box to stop someone going hunting in the morning. Both are intent in destroying human beings so why not get rid of our terrorists first?

It would be a lot cheaper to do it on home ground than fly halfway around the world! Since cheap food and no subsidies are the order of the day, I think this policy would certainly save the government a few quid. How much longer do we have to wait before the persecutor becomes the persecuted?

M Cushing

Coombe Ash, Churches Green, Dallington, Heathfield, East Sussex.

Departments wake-up call

You might be interested to learn that the Welsh word for waking up is deffro. The double f in Welsh is pronounced as one f in English. To say to someone, deffro is the command to wake up!

I cannot think of a more apt abbreviation for this new department than DEFRA. It is obvious that those who thought of this one have no knowledge of Welsh and even less of agriculture. DEFRA, therefore, does have more meaning in the rural communities of Wales.

James Griffiths

Pen Y Bryn, Waen Wen, Bangor, Gwynedd.

Lets tell them how it really is

How can Alison Walker of Pet Food Manufacturers Association be so sure (Letters, Oct 19) that her feed is free from foot-and-mouth? Human consumers are being offered imported meat products from 28 countries that have active F&M epidemics. If they can export, why cant we?

We in Scotland have no F&M so let us export. Support your local NFU and phone your MEP, Member of Scottish Parliament and MP to tell them of the unlevel playing field. Tell them the rest of the world enjoys access to our home market.

Traceability is a necessity in our home market so it seems essential that any meat product imported into the UK is able to pass all requirements of meat sold in this country. That includes health status, contaminant status, country of origin and date slaughtered. Lets make the importer pay for the policing of the imported meat products at the points of entry into our country. That is sadly lacking and still remains under funded.

What about the threat of an attack on our food supply with poisons and bio-weapons? F&M is an imported disease, we should make the importing wholesalers pay a contribution to help cut the burden of this disease and the taxpayer. Vent your anger. Take charge and tell the politicians the only safe product is a product they can answer yes to questions about traceability. If one is wrong or unable to be answered dont let it in.

We are still suffering and will continue to suffer until the politicians recognise the only truly safe produce is home-produced on UK farms by UK farmers.

John Picken

Priorletham, St Andrews, Fife.

Lobby for free school meals

How can a hungry child concentrate on his or her school work? Two million British children are not being properly fed.

Your readers should write to their councillors, MPs and No 10 and No 11 Downing Street, London SW1A 2AA.

They should request free school meals for all, using British produce. There should also be free transport for those under the age of 10 and half price for those under 21. We should support an their anti-poverty campaign.

PC Williams

25 Clytha Square, Llanfach, Abercarn, Newport.

Survival hinges on subsidy cash

David Richardson is right (Oct 26) when he says that big farms as well as small will fail if subsidies are cut. Not even non-subsidised potatoes will be viable because they need four break-crops to avoid eelworm.

Not even 9t/ha wheat, at average world prices, is profitable without subsidies, according to J Nix.

If it is right for the UK to drop farm subsidies and buy in cheap imports, it must be doubly right for the rest of the EU, with much smaller farms and far lower productivity rates, to do the same.

But efficiency may not be the deciding factor. When I raised that point with the farms commissioner, he replied said the EU farm budget represented only 1.6% of the EUs gross domestic product. As a means of maintaining self-sufficiency in farm food, keeping people at work in the countryside and avoiding problems with the balance of payments, it was good value for money, he added.

Certainly France, with three-quarters of a million farmers, would not accept free trade which would cause its farmers plus a similar number of ancillary workers to join already long dole queues. Meanwhile, America refuses to address its high pollution problems because that would damage the US economy.

More likely is for the EU to offer its farm surpluses to UK food buyers at attractive rates. That would avoid costly storage and damaging Third World trade. To recover the costs, it will increase the CAP contribution rate. As the commissioners see it; what is good for the American goose, is certainly good for the EU gander.

George Scales

Scales Farms, Cobblers Pieces, Abbess Roding, Ongar, Essex.

Lonesome for a friendly chat

I have been discussing with NFU officers how lonely farmers are now with no markets at which to meet and discuss their problems.

As the long, dark evenings approach, could the NFU office organise a chat bank similar to the lamb bank and nurses bank?

It would be interesting to chat with a farmer in another part of the country interested in the same type of farming and exchange ideas or at least a joke.

Shropshire farmers mother

Name and address supplied.

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