8 March 2002


NFU:Time for change is overdue

I laughed aloud when I read Oliver Walstons Talking Point (Feb 22). As chairman of an NFU branch that has been talking about this issue for many years, it was particularly gratifying to see his views in print.

In its defence, the NFU may finally address this issue in its forthcoming Meeting Members Expectations report which is shortly to go before council, but dont hold your breath. Whoever heard of turkeys voting for Christmas?

If past form is anything to go by, the top brass will obstruct any proposal that threatens their ivory tower. I appreciate that it is not easy to devise an electoral system that is both democratic and streamlined, but it should not be beyond the wit and wisdom of those involved.

Mr Walstons article ought to serve as a wake-up call to Mr Gill and his colleagues. If my own unofficial vox pops are anything to go by, the wider membership is unprepared to tolerate a continuation of the status quo.

Graham Reeves

Chairman, NFU Derby branch, Park Lane Farm, Shirley, Ashbourne, Derbys.

Grant us one man, one vote

Congratulations to Oliver Walston for his brilliant article (Talking Point, Feb 22) on democracy, or lack of it, in the NFU. It is incredible that in 2002 ordinary fully paid up NFU members are unable to cast their vote for the presidential team even though it is their hard earned cash which runs the show.

We at the NFU Wakefield branch, of which I am chairman, have lost three of our most senior members, mainly because they are so angry that despite years of sending properly constituted resolutions to council they were unable to influence the policies of the union in any way.

On behalf of the county branch of West Yorks, the UKs largest county branch, we asked council to be allowed to put the issue of one man, one vote to the 2000 annual meeting. Amazingly, we were refused despite following the correct procedure as laid down in the latest constitution. If council members were so sure they are correct in not allowing full democracy, what harm would be done by asking the whole membership for their opinion? That could be achieved either by including a questionnaire in the Business Update or, more properly, by allowing our resolution regarding one man, one vote to be included on the agenda of next years annual meeting.

Dick Lindley

Birkwood Farm, Altofts, Normanton, West Yorks.

PR proposal is not anti-NFU

I would like to clarify comments attributed to me (News, Feb 15) about public relations. The agricultural industry in Britain desperately needs to take public relations more seriously. In the past 10 years we have lost significant ground when it comes to farmers reputation as producers of wholesome food, as kind keepers of animals and as good stewards of the British countryside.

In objective terms, our record on these fronts is good, but our image is not. I am trying to raise £50,000 to commission a feasibility study to examine the setting up of a well funded, well manned PR unit for British agriculture.

In addition, parts of the industry need to think about how to get the message across. It is noticeable that some sectors have an independent voice, while others do not. For example, the sheep sector has the National Sheep Association and the pig and poultry sectors have their own groups. In the US, the arable sector has numerous independent bodies. Why dont British arable farmers have their own group?

Many see this as an attack on the NFU. It is no such thing. I have always been an NFU member and intend to remain so. Other arable farmers are not members and thus have no representation. I can see no reason why we cannot have a role for the NFU and for an arable group. In the US, the Farm Bureau and numerous arable groups operate successfully. Most farmers belong to both and some belong to one. To describe my proposal as a breakaway, anti-NFU initiative is misleading.

Guy Smith

Wigboro Wick Farm, St Osyth, Essex.

Account for the price difference

The Curry Commission proposes that a food chain centre be established to promote transparency in pricing in the food chain.

What better place to start then in the milk market? The ex-farm price of milk is currently averaging below 11p/pint, the retail price is steady at 28p/pint. Milk producers want to know how the difference of 17p/pint is accounted for.

Bill Madders

Church Farm, Coppenhall, Stafford.

Back our dairy marketing

It was no surprise, following my Talking Point (Jan 18), to read the comments of Ian Potter (Letters, Feb 8). But when someone offers 1m litres of quota and is then told that it might be advantageous to feed it out in small lots, then that, in my view, is manipulation.

So who is wearing the dinosaur suit that Ian would put on me? I will leave it to the readers, but I bet I know what they think.

We have to be positive about our future after BSE and foot-and-mouth and accept that, despite the present overflow of governments so-called "new initiatives", we must make our own way forward.

There is also an opportunity to have an input into a changed quota regime. If dairy farmers do not respond to that opportunity, we will have only ourselves to blame if the outcome is against us.

Danish and German quota trading seems to work well and farmers are pleased with it. The details are available on and, after the Curry report, I do not think the UK dairy industry should be surprised to find we are on our own.

Unless we take the initiative collectively to get our marketing sorted out, we will be swamped by the European farmer-organisations. They are much more independent of their governments, more focused and steadfastly forward thinking.

We have many worthwhile marketing initiatives, but they need our backing and commitment. Witness David Handleys move regarding Express Dairy Company. So come on, all you business-minded farmers, get stuck in.

Finn Christensen

Steanbow Farm, Pilton, Shepton Mallet, Somerset.

Let us supply quality lamb

The letters (Feb 22) written by Peter Stevenson of CIWF concerning live sheep exports and Peter Telfer about New Zealand frozen lamb exports would, if the ideas they outline were implemented, serve to drive down lamb prices.

Frozen lamb is recognised as being an inferior product and consequently is sold as a commodity product at a low price. Compare any supermarket, the retail price for frozen lamb is 30-50% lower than fresh meat. NZ is successfully shipping more fresh chilled lamb to its markets around the world because it sells at a higher price than frozen produce. Ironically, it is the British market which takes large quantities of frozen NZ lamb because is it cheaper than our home produced fresh lamb.

Mr Stevenson also suggests consumers should be persuaded to substitute domestic for imported sheep meat. But that would mean the value of our lamb would have to fall by about 30% to compete with frozen NZ product.

The reasons sheep are exported live is because the Europeans are more discerning about the quality of their food and will not buy frozen even if it is cheap. The cost of slaughtering is also lower and the value of the fifth quarter is higher. Lamb is seen as a high quality, high value product and that is the way we should keep it.

I agree with Peter Stevenson that we should transport more as carcases. It is more efficient. The nearest volume abattoirs that will pay a good price for my sheep are at the end of what he suggests are long, overseas journeys.

Farming on the Sussex/Kent border, the nearest UK abattoirs for quality lambs are Yetminster, Dorset (205 miles) or Kenilworth (195 miles). My nearest abattoir is Sluis in Holland (I20 miles) which takes four hours including ferry time or Antwerp in Belgium (170 miles, 5 hours). Or I can supply the largest and highest value market in the world which is Paris 210 miles away. Paris can be reached in six-and-a-half hours including the ferry crossing. It can take longer to reach Dorset.

Let us have a profitable, welfare friendly sheep industry. And allow us to supply our customers with a quality product wherever they are.

FR Langrish

Chairman of the British Wood

Free trade is bad medicine

David Richardson is right (Feb 22). The tragedy for UK farming and this countrys manufacturing industry is that Tony Blair, like the Tories before him, believes that global free trade is the panacea for all ills. But as David points out, it is the "medicine that kills the patient".

Did we not have enough of perverted global solutions in the past century? Equally tragic is that a body as powerful as the NFU has never challenged this flawed utopian ideology. Like the Quislings of the last century it has sought to reach an accommodation – to mitigate the effects of free trade – with larger subsidies. Now everyone wants to cut these subsidies.

In fact, the NFU was as keen as everyone to scrap supply management, which would have avoided the current situation. But now the NFU and the rest of us are up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

Malcolm Read

Broadmead Farm, West Grimstead, Salisbury, Wiltshire.

Crown Estate sell-by date up

Christopher Bourchier, head of the Crown Estates rural acres, claims (Land and Farms, Feb 22) that the existing farmland investment tax laws for private investors are unfair to institutions like the Crown Estate and hinder the estates land purchase policy.

Let me remind him that the reason the Crown Estate owns 277,600 acres and the rest of us very few, is because of the special tax status enjoyed by his estate for the past 100 years or so. The estate is a historical anachronism and, apart from a few heritage sites, should be sold off to sitting tenants and private investors.

Tom Claythorne

Hillcroft Farm, Beaworthy, Devon.

Tractor stats are outdated

Your article (Power Farming, Feb 18) on tractor fuel costs contains many interesting facts. Unfortunately, the two tables could lead readers to some incorrect conclusions.

The Valmet 6000, shown in a very poor light as the result of a test done eight years ago, is not the same as the Valtra 6000 of today.

Early in 2001 all Valtra tractors, including the 6000 and 700 models featured in your tables, were fitted with new, green engines producing lower emissions while consuming less fuel.

Students at Harper Adams University College recently completed a project comparing the fuel consumption of Valtras 8350 fitted with their slow running engine with other tractors in the Valtra and competitive ranges. At 135hp, the Valtra 8350 (and its four-cylinder counterpart the 105hp 6750) produces maximum power and torque at about 200rpm less than conventional engines. That saves fuel while reducing wear, emissions and noise.

The work undertaken by Harper Adams students involved several typical operating situations and highlights the difference between test-bed and practical tests. Anyone wishing to know more about the students work should contact our Runcorn office.

John Nicholls

Valtra Tractors (UK), 5 Seymour Court, Manor Park, Runcorn, Cheshire.

Easier said than done

While we applaud the production of master plans to modernise industries, we know that it is easier said than done. Farming is first, about the economic production of healthy and wholesome food and second, about the rural environment.

If responsibility for food production is transferred to countries where labour costs are negligible, it will result in a less healthy food supply and the rapid deterioration of the quality of the rural environment.

The CAP was flawed at the start in that it was designed to maintain the living standards of most of Europes peasant farmers, many of whom have second jobs. If the CAP is not working let it be abandoned but do not throw the baby out with the bath water.

If government wants to maintain a viable UK farming industry (and I question whether it does) it is time for all European states to renationalise responsibility for their agricultural industries so that each state bears financial responsibility for determining the levels of subsidy it pays to its farmers.

The UK governments contribution would be minimal but it must understand that if it cares about the rural environment then there will be a substantial liability to pay for the enhancement of that in a new market-orientated farming industry.

It is the responsibility of government to defend and feed the nation. Not since the 30s has our population known what deprivation means. But if we abandon UK farming for the short-term financial gain they may experience it again.

If there is to be reform, as there should be, it must be undertaken in unison with the US and the rest of Europe.

As with all major restructuring, the government must accept that there will be a substantial cost in the short term to ensure an orderly transfer to a more market-orientated industry.

Peter Day

Swannington, Norfolk.

Sheep are bred for easy care

I was interested to read your article (Livestock, Feb 22) on the easy care system of shepherding. Far from it being revolutionary, we have been practising this system on Anglesey since the mid-1960s.

Before the foot-and-mouth cull, I had nearly 2000 ewes shepherded once a day, set stocked at six/acre and lambing from Apr 1. I am now down to 300 but intend to build up the numbers to their previous level. We have gone one step further than minimum assistance at lambing by developing a breed of sheep specifically designed for the purpose – the Easy Care breed.

There are about 3000 females in around five flocks and we intend to form an association of breeders this summer.

Based on the Wiltshire horn, they shed their short, kempy winter coat and therefore do not require shearing, crutching or fly-dipping.

They have also been bred for the benefits you mention in the article, such as ease of lambing, milkiness, good mothering and lively lambs at birth.

All are hereditary characteristics and have taken 40 years to develop.

For further details please visit our web-site (

Iolo Owen

Glantraeth, Bodorgan, Anglesey.

Talking turkey in America

A friend in the US state of Ohio who likes hunting recently found an article about wild turkeys in The Biologist.

From the pioneer days of America to 1920s, the wild turkey disappeared from all but 18 of the 39 states due to forests being cleared.

Now, with the support and help of the National Wild Turkey Federation, the population has expanded to all 48 states on the North American continent. NWTF has relocated 168,000 wild turkeys and spent $144m on conservation programmes.

Since 1959, the wild turkey population has grown from 500.000 to 5.6m on states as far apart as Hawaii and Ontario, Canada.

NWTF has grown to include 400.000 members. Its fundraising at local events to conserve the US deep south hunting traditions was a classic formula for success.

It is a win-win-win deal which has saved the cultural richness of turkey hunting and showed that the lore of turkey hunting skills can regenerate new habitats and new answers for this wild bird.

Pauline Toale

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