4 September 1998


Co-operate, its the only answer now

The continuing impasse between Milk Marque and the big dairy companies has convinced me that the only way for remaining MM members like myself to stay involved in large-scale co-operative milk selling is for MM to split into two independent co-ops.

Each would control 20-25% of the milk market and would therefore no longer be subject to the scrutiny of the Office of Fair Trading. Each would be just as big as any of the dairies and therefore would be free to be as vertically integrated as it wished.

It is only producer-owned processing capacity that is going to get us out of the mess we find ourselves in, It would also help to put us back near the top of EU milk price league.

The argument that French, Dutch and Danish co-ops control far higher proportions of their domestic markets is not relevant. Their governments are sympathetic to co-operative marketing; ours couldnt care less.

We have tried Milk Marque GB and tragically it hasnt worked. There is no shame in that. It has exposed the big dairies as the ruthless, selfish operators we always suspected they were. So now lets take them on at their own game, free from the gaze of the OFT and the dairies constant sniping, before our industry bleeds to death.

Caspar Bush

Peart Farm, North St Philip, Bath.

Wage war on dairy leeches

It is time farmers stopped squealing about the price they receive for their milk while they remain willing to pay extortionate prices to lease or purchase quota. There is a call from some forward thinking producers for dairy farmers to rally together and create a stronger voice for the working dairy farmer.

It is now time to follow Keith Hollands suggestion and form a national federation of dairy farmers or create six regional co-ops, two in Scotland and four in England and Wales.

If producers united they could take more control of their destiny by reducing production by 1% gradually and keeping national production just below quota. That could be very beneficial in giving them control of the quota market; it would also stop the downward trend in milk prices.

I am sure between us we can work together to get a fair return for both producers and processors. We should also wage war on non-producer quota holders and other leeches that are already taking more than their fair share of our milk cheques.

Andrew Scott

Hall Farm, Church Street, Blaby, Leics.

Strive for unity in milk battle

The second half of Bill Uttleys letter (Aug 14) implies a banner of unity, yet he proceeds to encourage the division of small producers from the rest. Is that hypocrisy, shooting oneself in the foot, or both?

The NFU represents all its member milk producers, irrespective of size or who they sell their milk to, and that is reflected in the spread of members on the HQ Milk Committee. Milk producers are free to sell milk where they wish and choose to do so for various reasons.

The NFU is neutral in that respect; to be able to represent all producers it has to be. That never has and never will be an easy task for any organisation, indeed, do I recall criticism of Milk Marque by its own small producers?

Mr Uttleys suggestion that NFU president Ben Gill gets rid of those "who have tootled off with their milk in the other direction" reflects a dictatorial attitude which will not encourage supporters. Is it not this very dictatorial attitude that has helped to create the recent selling difficulties?

Perhaps Milk Marque producers should examine their own electoral system and their elected representatives who choose to be divisive and dictatorial in their public statements.

Evolution will continue as it always has and no amount of huffing and puffing will stop it, but the present financial state of the industry is not sustainable. These are desperate times, what is required from its spokesmen is a positive contribution, not a negative one.

David Roston

The Acorns, Common Farm, Marton, Winsford, Cheshire.

One rule for you another for us

I write after reading your article "Store rations with care to keep mule buyers happy" (Livestock, Jul 31). It puzzles me how the marvellous Express Dairies can keep going on about high standards when every day my milk is picked up by a rusty old tanker, covered in flaking rust.

The pipe that sucks up my ultra clean milk is dirty, old, perished and covered in tape to stop it leaking.

I have asked the driver to change his tatty, dirty gloves as they were a health hazard. One rule for you and another for us must be their motto.

M Smith

Blean Farm, Narrow Lane, Litte Ayton, North Yorks.

A passport to lots more work

Over the past year or so we have heard a lot about a computerised cattle tracing system. As from Sept 28 the British Cattle Movement Service will be established in Workington.

Looking to the future, we invested in a computer and the necessary software, which we have found invaluable.

We are, therefore, astounded and extremely annoyed to discover that from Sept 28 we will no longer be able to apply for passports on a computer printout, something we have been doing successfully for the past year.

How can the farming unions and MAFF, etc, have allowed this to happen? I wonder how much input from working farmers has gone into the scheme. After all, it is supposed to be for our benefit.

I refer in particular to tagging dates and applications for passports. As I understand it, if calves are tagged at birth, as I believe most suckler calves are and probably calves from the dairy herds as well, it means applying for passports 26 times a year and 52 times a year after Jan 1, 2000.

Maurice Weightman

Rosgill Hall, Penrith, Cumbria.

Any problems with passports?

I am trying to find out the extent of the problems farmers are experiencing in getting their cattle passports within time and what effect the reduction in time scale will have.

I am also gathering information on the numbers of animals that farmers, for whatever reason, have been unable to obtain passports for. This information will be passed to my MP. The government must be made to realise that farmers have come to the end of their tethers, and are starting to fight back.

Eleanor Johnson

Middlehurst Farm, Long Green, Barrow, Chester.

ACCS rebels under threat

The comments from an unnamed verifier (Letters, Aug 21) contained the thinly veiled threat of dire retribution against those members of the farming community who use your excellent magazine to express their legitimate and sincerely held views opposing the silly ACC Scheme.

I wonder if NFU president Ben Gill and Peter Limb approve of these outrageous threats against the very people they are supposedly representing?

If the verifier who wrote this astonishing letter had the courage of his convictions, he would publish his name and address in your next issue.

Could it be that ACCS is so short of members, so far behind its predicted targets, that its employees have resorted to writing anonymous letters hoping to frighten a few more cereal producers into becoming assured producers?

Thankfully, most British farmers are made of sterner stuff and realise that the mind-blowing task of filling in countless extra forms and then parting with vast amounts of hard earned cash, will neither improve the quality of their cereals nor the price they receive for them!

Dick Lindley

Birkwood Farm, Altofts, Normanton, West Yorks.

Did clean boots go on record?

Farmer Focus contributor Bill Harbour was pictured standing in a load of peas (Arable, Aug 21).

I believe that Mr Harbour is a supporter of ACCS. Did he therefore wash his boots before standing in this load of peas? If so, did he make a written record of that fact?

Alec Wilson

Mace Farm, Cudham, Sevenoaks, Kent.

Food Safety Act is sufficient

I totally agree with Jonathan Dixon Smith (Letters, Aug 21) when he says that under the Food Safety Act we should be producing and storing crops to that standard. Most farmers are doing this, so a few more silly rules under ACCS would not change anything.

Mr Dixon Smith claimed his produce reached a high standard, but he also said that over Christmas his grain heated and grain beetle had a field day. What an admission. I think his standards were non-existent if he hadnt the ability to manage his store as laid down in the present regulations. So I ask him, will joining ACCS help his poor management?

As for the anonymous verifier criticising Mr Flindts comments (Talking Point, July 24) that sometimes he would falsify some of his records. I know many more who would be prepared to do the same; no doubt all essential ones would be kept.

I should also like to tell the verifier that all quality, well presented grain has buyers waiting at home and abroad – he, quite naturally, is trying to justify his well paid job.

NFU president, Ben Gill, said recently that most farmers are proud of producing quality grain, but a few were not up to scratch. Farmers who store their grain in an unfit condition and allow it to deteriorate are certainly not up to scratch; they are storing a food crop unfit to eat and should be prosecuted for failing to keep the necessary records under the Food Safety Act.

E Bell

Grange Road, Wingland, Terrington St Clements. Lincs.

Reasons to be wary about GM

Reading the newspapers the other weekend added to our confusion about genetically modified crops.

On the one hand we saw a Monsanto advertisement arguing that the technology is needed to "feed the world" and on the other, Fay Weldon highlighting that womens obsession with their "rights" has led to a fertility rate of 1.8 (below the replacement rate) , down from 3.5 in 1901. That trend is developing worldwide.

In fact, it is food surpluses in Europe, America and Australia, that are the cause of our farmers economic problems. Third-World countries suffer from interference and the introduction of simple technology would do much to improve their food production.

Governments see GM technology as a means of driving the economy forward, providing jobs and tax revenues. The commercial companies responsible are out to gain absolute control on a frightening scale.

Enough warnings have been given, and issues raised over food safety, to make consumers wary. There is a basic instinct, natural caution, that we are all endowed with, for our own protection. Perhaps this is more highly developed among farmers, being more in touch with nature. Some might call it common sense.

NFU leaders have aligned themselves with this new technology and we need to ask why. It would do well to listen to its members in the south west who voted five to one in favour of a more cautious approach.

J Griffin

Middlefields Farm, Hinckley, Leics.

Organic picture set straight

I wish to clarify some points made in the article about organic dairying (Livestock, Aug 14).

Mark Measures is not the Soil Associations agricultural development officer, but head of advisory services at the Elm Farm Research Centre. The two organisations are separate but work together and complement each other in many ways.

The explanation of conversion periods was also confusing.

Land must be managed to organic standards for a two-year conversion period before it achieves organic status. During that time no artificial fertilisers or agrochemicals may be used and the process of building soil fertility must start by using legumes, manures and composts.

Dairy cows from a conventional herd must undergo at least 36 weeks of organic management with respect to the welfare and veterinary treatments. The final 12 weeks must be under full organic management, including feeding – this regime can normally begin only after the grassland has undergone its full, two-year conversion period.

A typical timetable for a dairy farmer converting would be:

End of conversion of land, minus 24 weeks – start organic welfare and veterinary management.

End of conversion of land (ideally at or after turnout) – start organic feeding regime .

End of conversion of land plus 12 weeks – herd achieves organic status.

This means dairy farmers can produce organic milk after 27 months.

Philip Stocker

Agricultural development officer, Soil Association, Bristol House, 40-56 Victoria Street, Bristol.

Badger plans are mollification

Regarding the recent government announcement about its five-year experiment to study the effect of badger culling on the incidence of cattle TB (News, Aug 21). It claims the study will allow it to identify the best method of controlling TB.

It is cold comfort for those farmers suffering from TB restrictions to realise that, other than in the research areas, nothing is going to happen for at least five years.

Imagine my astonishment when, two nights after the announcement, news of the badger cull in Britain was reported on the Eire radio station RTE Radio. I heard a reporter describe the badger cull trials in Britain as being based on the badger cull trials that have been conducted for the past nine years in the Irish Republic. Those use various cull levels to assess the effect on the incidence of bovine TB.

When asked if the trial had been successful, a spokeswoman said that over the nine years of the trial where maximum culling had taken place, the incidence of Bovine TB in the area had been reduced by 80-90%.

In the light of the above there can be no doubt the governments announcement has more to do with mollification than eradication.

George W Smith

West Bolton, Alnwick, Northumberland.

Held to ransom by credit firms

With the imminent retirement of one of my employees, I am looking to replace my three aged combines with two, or possibly one machine to reduce operating costs.

Hence, I have started to shop around for a deal on a new combine or two. But I am dismayed that should I wish to buy one I am forced to use red, green or blue finance to go with the goods.

I thought that farmers had a reputation for having buying power and not being dictated to when it comes to doing business?

I should think that hardly any farmers take the "pay half now and half in one years time, 0% interest schemes" with times being as they are.

If you go away from the standard scheme, how much money are you really saving by taking up low-rate finance?

The answer is you dont really know. And, if that is the case, you run the risk of being overcharged by the finance house which, in fairness, is only looking for as much profit as possible, as we are.

0% is not tax advantageous. Take away these manufacturer schemes and let us shop around for the finance, like the good old days.

J Hepper Smith

Estate Office, Gable Farming, Sutton on Sea, Lincs.

Ramblers could pay for access

The letter (Aug 7) from the Ramblers Associations access director raises interesting points. First, if I have the facts right, there is no voluntary right of access at Dunraven.

You pay to go on a conducted tour; in effect just like going to the cinema or a stately home. The ramblers want free access all the time.

Not quite the same is it?

Second, the time and money spent in negotiating access shows clearly that the money is there for pen pushing, but not for maintenance.

Third, if it is not acceptable to have any voluntary access that can be withdrawn, we return to the first point. Ramblers want only free access, everywhere, all the time.

If not, they would oppose the majority of S53 applications that are our farmland, crops and peoples back and front gardens.

Moorland is farmland and downs are farmland. Most "common land" is private farmland and grazing.

If the ramblers have so much money, why dont they buy out some of these sites? As usual they are silent about it. Perhaps they originated the saying "not in our backyards".

P Dransfield

North Yorkshire House, Main Street, Great Heck, Goole.

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