23 November 2001


Dont leave live auctions closed down

Live fatstock auctions could and should be restarted immediately in areas clear of foot-and-mouth. Several months of abuse of power within the retail sector, with prices fixed by buyers without consideration for the commercial well-being of primary producers, kills off any fantasy of a true free market existing without competition provided by time-proven livestock auctions.

Average net prices paid into the bank by livestock farmers for beef cattle and sheep in recent months confirm farmers are subsidising the retail sector. They are certainly not receiving a fair and reasonable return for their total investment in the breeding, rearing and fattening of cattle and sheep.

Seven years ago, the Milk Marketing Board and Dairy Crest were unnecessarily stolen from milk producers in what has proved the theft of the century. Do not allow livestock auction markets, for fat or store stock, to be closed by stealth by this government acting as agents for vested interests. The consequences will be almost identical; smaller producers will be forced out of business and larger producers will become beggars in the market.

A E Durston

Middle Farm, West Horrington, Nr Wells, Somerset.

Thanks a lot for thinking local

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many people who supported the CLAs "Think Local" initiative on Nov 3. I would also like to thank, on behalf of the rural north west, all those other organisations which are helping to publicise the benefits of thinking local.

We have received many calls and expressions of support, and some from people who wanted to tell us how they had helped. Some went to events at their village hall for the first time. Others bought more from their local shop or sought out local produce when they visited their supermarket. We were even thanked for pointing out how many original Christmas presents could be bought in local shops or farmers markets, and for encouraging more people to do what some have been doing for years.

Given recent headlines about our vanishing rural post offices, it has never been more important to support our local communities. Nov 3 was a good start, but we must keep it up. In these uncertain times, we really can help ourselves and our neighbours by stopping to think that where we spend our time and money can go some way towards helping ourselves to a brighter future.

Douglas Chalmers

Regional director, Country Land & Business Association, Dalton Hall Stable Yard, Burton, Carnforth, Lancs.

Organic is not the only way

It is important that DEFRA does not think organic farming is the only instrument through which greener and less intensive agriculture can be developed.

The NBA is alarmed at the prominence it, and the secretary of state, Margaret Beckett, have already given to organic agriculture in their plans to remodel UK food production. We would like policy makers to recognise that environmentally sustainable agriculture can be secured using other methods that lie outside the highly proscriptive organic envelope. It is also unfortunate that the prominent organic lobby has persuaded so many consumers, retailers, politicians and industry administrators that organic farming is the only genuine form of environmentally responsible farming.

That is plainly not the case – particularly on livestock holdings in the hills and uplands that work outside Soil Association rules and this fact must be officially acknowledged. The NBA is happy to see organic production increase and more premium-winning organic labels appear at retail level.

However, it thinks there is a greater chance of even more farmers earning more money if businesses using production methods other than organic are given an equal chance to pitch their output at higher priced markets.

It is important for UK agriculture that organic farming is not seen as exclusively environmentally friendly. It should be regarded as just one of many farming styles that carry legitimate green credentials.

We hope that a range of regionally-based production labels will more easily be developed so that agricultural markets can be widened through the broadening of product appeal. That will help more farmers to survive because more opportunities to secure genuine retail premiums have been created.

Robert Forster

National Beef Association, The Firs, Blackmore Park Road, Malvern, Worcs.

Sort successive tenancies

In highlighting the problems which tenant farmers face when it comes to diversification (Opinion and News, Nov 9), you failed to mention one other crucial matter – successive tenancies. If the person wishing to succeed to the tenancy has not been earning the major part of his/her income from core farming activities, then the landlord can block that succession. This is surely something to be addressed without delay.

Malcolm Read

Broadmead Farm, West Grimstead, Salisbury, Wilts.

Markets boost shops takings

I am writing to let you know about the success farmers markets have been, not only for ourselves but for the small town in which they are held.

I note from your article "Farmers markets success results in silencing of clock" (News, Nov 2) that shopkeepers in Gloucester were complaining that they lost trade during a market. We sell at Tewkesbury farmers market and have been welcomed by the local shopkeepers, who, far from losing trade, have been given a boost on the days when a market is held.

We sell pork and beef on our stall and were sold out on the first two occasions we took part. However, we heard from the local chamber of commerce that the local butcher had also had a big increase in his takings on market day. Similar stories came from other shopkeepers.

It is important that these markets succeed for us and also for the town. If we can work hand in hand, it helps our public relations in meeting our buyers and explaining how we produce and boost the local economy.

David Lewis

Lice eating into leather trade

I write on behalf of the British leather industry in response to your article discussing lice control in livestock (FW, Oct 26). We fully endorse the comments of both Peter Bates and David Harwood in stressing the importance of control measures to reduce lice burdens in winter housing. Evidence from UK tanners shows that parasite-related damage to cattle hides this autumn is the worst it has been for more 10 years, and this raises fears about the potential level of lice infestation over the winter months.

Lice infestation of UK cattle results in areas of discoloration after the dyeing process and is referred to in the sector as lightspot or fleck. This damage severely limits the available market for the product and is estimated to reduce the value of the UK bovine leather sector by £15m-£20m a year. Damage is more prevalent during winter when 70% of domestic hides display this fault. Research has clearly demonstrated that the presence of live lice on cattle at slaughter results in flecked leather. During these periods, UK manufacturers often import hides from other countries, notably Scandinavia, to fill the gap left by poor quality UK material.

In addition to the fleck fault, hides also display scratch damage, where animals have rubbed to relieve the intense irritation caused by lice and this may also increase the risk of ringworm infection. The UK sector produces a high quality, technically advanced product for the world consumer and the absolute prerequisite for this is good quality raw material. The presence of lice, scratch or ringworm damage all reduce the chance to achieve the desired quality and suppresses the value of domestic material.

Dr Bates made reference to quality related payments for hides, but the difficulty remains that damage is located on the skin under the hair and is not visible until processing is advanced. There is no effective method for hide traceability that can withstand the rigours of processing, due to extreme acid/alkaline conditions used and the mechanisation of the process. When a method becomes available, quality could be measured accordingly. Until such a time, we encourage readers to heed the advice of Dr Bates and treat cattle at the beginning of housing with an appropriate and effective product. Remember, as well as hide quality, parasite infestation and associated scratching will harm the health, welfare and overall economic performance of the animal.

Phil Hadley

British Leather Confederation, BLC Leather Technology, Leather Trade House, Kings Park Road, Moulton Park, Northampton.

Many keen on lobby group idea

I support David Richardson 100% in his proposal for a lobby group covering all of the British conventional farming industry. Too often I see single issue lobbying groups punching far above their weight and carrying a much greater impact on the media and the country than they warrant.

I know from personal research the agricultural arms of the main banks, most of the agricultural companies, machinery manufacturers and dealers are enthusiastic about this idea of a small, high calibre lobby group. The group would not only defend our besieged farming industry but, where applicable, adopt a proactive role at all levels of communication whether it be with Westminster, Brussels or the media. I do not see this competing with the NFU, which would continue to be what it was set up to be, the union representing farmers.

I hope the NFU encourages this initiative and does not feel a need to put obstructions in its path but works in harmony with it. At the present rate DEFRA will not have a farming industry left to fiddle with while farming burns. Neither will the NFU retain its members.

Teddy Maufe

Branthill Farm, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.

Samaritans are happy to talk

In his excellent article, David Richardson speaks of the importance of people talking to each other (Nov 2).

As a farmer and a Samaritan, I agree wholeheartedly. Never have speakers secretaries to all farmers clubs throughout the country had a more important role than now. I would like to urge them to encourage farmers to attend their winter meetings and to be aware of people who have withdrawn into themselves and whose behaviour has changed noticeably.

If they, or anyone else, is concerned about a neighbour or friend they can contact their local branch of the Samaritans. We could then contact that person and invite them to talk to someone in complete confidence.

Farmers clubs looking for a speaker can contact their local Samaritan Branch. I am sure it could be arranged for a couple of speakers to give an interesting and informative talk on the work that we do.

Samaritans officer

Name and address supplied.

No confidence in scrapie plan

The decisions being made about the future of the sheep industry with the introduction of the national scrapie plan does not convey much confidence, only concern. Those responsible for the NSP should stop, look, listen and think about the following points.

BSE is not scrapie. Scrapie-resistant sheep may be carriers and mask signs of scrapie. Susceptible scrapie sheep may or may not develop scrapie. To prove there is a theoretical risk of BSE being in the national sheep flock, may not be possible and, therefore, remains theory only. If other countries use genotype five breeding sheep and this country uses genotype one, which country will produce the safest lamb to consume? To breed sheep from a too-small genetic base, may lead to unknown genetic problems. To do nothing about scrapie is not an option, but to make panic decisions is not right. Culling of good breeding sheep for no good reason is just not acceptable.

Last, remember we need to produce a continually high quality of food within this country, and help safeguard our own freedom, especially with the troubles around the world.

E E Clarke

Brackenbury Fields, Boothby Pagnell, Grantham, Lincs.

Environmesh is by far the best

I write in response to your article (Arable, Oct 26) about swedes. As the leading swede grower in the UK using this environmentally friendly system, I am alarmed at the claims made by those featured in the article.

We are entering our fourth year of cropping using this system and I can assure your readers that the cost of £120ha claimed is nonsense if they use the genuine article. Such a price understates the reality of what is a superb system and undervalues it not only in respect of the cost but also in its lack of appreciation of its benefits to the environment.

There is no cheap and easy fix following the demise of Birlane but in our view Environmesh is by far the best option and is very effective.

We have used the system during the past three years over increasing acreages and are probably the only people who can speak about the qualities and pitfalls. There is investment needed for the system to work not just in hard cash but also in hard work. We at Fearns believe all this is worthwhile and the rewards certainly justify it.

Allan Fearn

Redford Farm, Laurencekirk, Kincardineshire.

First non-toxic rodenticides

I write in response to the letter (Nov 2) from Rodney Stanbury of Cornwall. There is no need to administer "blue corn" because the worlds first non-toxic rodenticides are available from Natrocell Technologies (020-8803 6333 or Eradirat and EradiMouse contain no toxins but do the same job as toxic products in the same time, for the same cost.

Charles Waller

Sales executive, Natrocell Technologies, Crispin House, 6 Crispin Industrial Estate, Angel Road, London.

Beware of vets expansion bid

The veterinary profession appears to be feeling the pinch and at least Dick Sibley is honest in giving this as the reason for more involvement with the food industry (Livestock, Oct 19). If vets stick to the sales pitch of commercial benefits to farmers, all well and good.

But producers should beware the experiences of the meat trade after veterinary involvement. The campaign to assume lucrative control of hygiene enforcement in abattoirs was no doubt based on a laudable ambition to get more work for the profession. But the BVA-led campaign was not as open as Mr Sibley.

We got a tacky exercise in exploiting food scares. The claim was that only vets are both knowledgeable and competent enough to protect public health. Slaughterhouse owners were described as untrustworthy and incapable of producing sound meat without a vet looking on. That was nonsense but it worked, and the veterinary profession pulled off a successful business expansion programme.

Not only were vets present in every abattoir in the land but they were given statutory enforcement powers. With the added masterstroke that payment would be related to the amount of enforcement carried out.

Having established an authoritarian grip on a section of the meat trade there is now an odious attempt to present this Draconian regime as a service to customers. Services such as yet more regulatory restrictions in the guise of compulsory HACCP controls and microbiological testing. Paid for of course by the abattoir owner but overseen by the vet.

When Mr Sibley comes bearing gifts in the form of "customer protection" and "quality assurance", farmers should look at the small print. Ask what he means by "the British Veterinary Association should push for compulsory veterinary plans on every farm as a condition for a licence to produce food for human consumption".

Ask any abattoir owner what this means. Dont say that you were not warned.

Toby Baker

Bakers Slaughtering Services, The New Abattoir, West End, Nailsea, Bristol.

Long hours at wheel harmful

As a regular reader of farmers weekly I was interested to read information (News, Oct 26) about the possibility of drivers being restricted to fewer hours when working on tractors.

I have often thought about the harm it must do watching tractor drivers at work. The long hours going over uneven humpy ground and also the fact that they are sitting in a continuously twisted position looking back at the implements must be harmful.

But it certainly does seem a difficult problem to eradicate bearing in mind the lack of staff.

Diana Turner

145 Parklands Road, Chichester, West Sussex.

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