TALKING POINT

9 April 1999




Where is the help for new entrants?

The chairman of the National Federation of Young Farmers Clubs has put the case for helping new entrants into farming clearly and comprehensively (Talking Point, Mar 26). He reminded us that this is the only country in Europe which gives no help to young farmers. He could have mentioned that the US Department of Agriculture grants substantial loans to young farmers. All this raises an obvious query: Why?

Twenty years ago the difficulty of getting into farming was one of the main reasons for starting the Family Farmers Association. One of the founders was a would-be farmer, son of a small farmer, who has since had to make a career elsewhere. For all these years, we and the Young Farmers Clubs have been arguing the case for help for new entrants. MAFF, indeed the whole of whichever government happens to be in power, doesnt want to know. Why not?

Why is MAFF so uninterested in farmers future? In the 1960s it helped small-scale farmers. In recent decades its policy has been to improve the structure of British agriculture. That means not helping as many farms as possible to be viable, but increasing the average farm size.

There used to be an economic theory that farming was a poor use of resources which would be better employed manufacturing more expensive items than food. Surely this cannot still prevail now that all the economic, social and environmental spin-offs from a flourishing farming community are recognised and unemployment is a chronic problem?

It is also acknowledged that we need a secure source of healthy food, which means encouraging home production. Does MAFF actively seek to reduce the number of farmers by refusing help to install new ones? If so, why?

These are not rhetorical questions. Many of us have been asking the government about them for years. Why dont we get satisfactory answers? Does anybody in MAFF read farmers weekly?

Mrs Pippa Woods

Chairman, Family Farmers Association, Osborne Newton, Aveton Gifford, Kingsbridge, Devon.

Farm assurance is misleading

Beef and lamb producers are being seriously misled over farm assurance. Indeed, it is little short of criminal when few farmers can afford to squander money.

During the Smithfield show, ABM chairman Lord Lindsay announced that his organisation expected to be accredited by UKAS to EN 45011, the European Standard for Product Certification, during Jan 1999.

That has not happened and unaccredited verification, like a verbal agreement, isnt worth the paper its written on. Now FABBL chairman Ian Frood trumpets about operating to ABM standards – those standards that have so far failed to meet recognised requirements.

So FABBL members are being fleeced £75 or £85 for a failed standard certificate. They are also being duped by that £75 price tag. The level of inspection is so cursory that it cannot possibly comply with the requirements of the accredited standard.

D &#42 M Dalrymple

17 Byfield Road, Chipping Warden, Banbury.

OFS is rubbish for Exmoor

It is deplorable and a retrograde step that MAFF has taken recently in proposing the Organic Aid Scheme be altered to become the Organic Farming Scheme (News, Mar 12).

In April last year and subsequently MAFF issued Press releases announcing its intention to promote and encourage organic farming.

Payments were specified in three categories and were a definite improvement on the previous and present schemes in operation. No date has yet been fixed for OFS to start.

The indication is that over five years the costly conversion process would be softened financially by front-loaded hectarage payments. Now we have a proposed OFS which has not been ratified by parliament. It has a strong agri-environment and cross-compliance element, on the excuse that double funding would have happened with the conversion assistance payments.

All those in an ESA scheme or country stewardship are to be severely penalised under OFS. This is absolute rubbish especially on Exmoor, where the ESA payments per hectare are lower than the reduction in organic payment proposed. Exmoor is the lowest funded ESA in the UK on a per hectare basis and hence the most affected potentially.

We are a group of Exmoor farmers who are interested in organic concepts and several have already signed up to the scheme. All have done their budgets on the basis of the previously published figures which is distinctly dodgy if you are in receipt of ESA or stewardship money.

Remember that as a conventional now organic farmer the reduction in stock numbers on a neighbours organic farm will benefit you – supply and demand rules the market.

If customers wish to buy organic produce they must be right. We cannot go on chasing subsidy money by keeping more and more animals on a given acreage and must look for alternative ways of marketing or adding value.

So please conventional farmers dont knock us and we wont knock you. Your support versus MAFF in this current aberration will be welcome.

John L Armitage

Exmoor Organic Group, Exmoor House, Dulverton, Somerset.

Whats sauce for the goose…

While studying my IACS forms I found they contained 14 declarations, eight undertakings to sign, and a warning which includes the threats of fines, loss of the aid claimed, any to which you may be entitled during the remainder of the year, and exclusion from the schemes in the following year, and penalties. It also threatens imprisonment.

However, correspondence from the Intervention Board states: "Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the data provided, the Intervention Board shall not be held liable for any errors or omissions".

May I suggest the NFU provides all its members with a rubber stamp for use on all forms. "Whats sauce for the goose…"

Name & Address Supplied

Mixed signals from ACCS

Last week I attended a lecture given by a regional manager of ACCS.

Once again he insisted ACCS is a voluntary scheme. Yet he later endorsed the ACCS pamphlet listing merchants, millers and maltsters intentions to source only ACCS approved grain from harvest 2000 onwards.

If ACCS was sincere in its wish for the scheme to remain voluntary, it should distance itself from these statements.

That it is prepared to use them as propaganda to put pressure on farmers to join is reason for concern. It also highlights the opinion of many who believe ACCS is steered by the trade.

Darren Tebbitt

Hill Row, Haddenham, Ely, Cambs.

Proof of harm? Prove its safe

The self-immolation of the farming industry continues apace and is it any wonder? Genetically modified crops are being sold through the food stores to a public which does not want to buy them. There is genuine scepticism about the reliability of such food and the possibility of long-term and, as yet, unquantifiable damage.

We have been through this scenario time and again. Look, for example, at the BSE crisis, the use of OP products, not to mention DDT, aldrin, dieldrin, etc. On each occasion we heard reassuring noises from manufacturers, from politicians and from the farming industry. Farmers leaders said trust the scientists. But each time there was a failure of the product, damage to the consumer and consumer confidence. Each time the farming industry has suffered.

Until farmers, and their leaders, begin to support the public and demand that the precautionary principle is carried through to the bitter end, even if it takes 30 years to prove a product is safe, then farming will continue to be the author of its own demise. Any family which has suffered a crippling or a death from a linked disease, such as CJD or OP poisoning, will not forgive an industry which apparently puts money before health. It is no longer acceptable to say that until there is proof of harm we should continue using the product.

John B Blackhurst

Planning and land advisor, 5 St Michaels Court, St Michaels Lane, Derby.

Agronomy tip for contributor

I would like to offer agronomy advice to James Moldon, your Farmer Focus contributor (Arable, Mar 26) at Stanaway Farm, Otley.

The tank-mix recommendation for Ally and Eagle on both winter and spring linseed has been withdrawn by both manufacturers because of crop safety fears.

The two products may still be used in sequence and will provide excellent low-cost weed control.

Name and address supplied.

Wide open for super-weeds

If one grows herbicide-resistant rape, what happens when you rotate your crops? Surely rapeseed that has been left behind after harvesting can turn into a super-weed. Never mind the spread of the pollen, it can spell trouble, even in the field where it was sown originally.

Havent those promoting GM crops thought of that, or do they not care? In a few years we could have super-weeds all over the place. Any advantage there might be in using GM crops will be short-lived. A new series of herbicides will have to be developed, simply to cope with GM crops which have become weeds.

Dr L C Herbert

64 Ullswater Road, Sompting, Lancing, West Sussex.

Tanker drivers can test milk

I write in support of the comments made by David Trick (Talking Point, Feb 26). Any delay in testing milk seems unnecessary because there are tests which are fast, easy to read and sensitive to most antibiotics.

Youd think tanker drivers could carry out a test while they wait for the milk to be agitated. I understand that this is the case in Germany and France where hundreds of tanker drivers perform these tests every day. Are we to fall foul of their standards in the publics eye, once again?

I use Axients Beta Star test which takes only five minutes and is easy to interpret. Surely with such tests available, the UK has no excuse not to reduce the risk of contamination of whole silos and speed up the process.

W M Bilkey

W C Bilkey & Son, Gargus Farm, Tregony, Truro, Cornwall.

These noises are part of country

In the present economic climate and in the wake of the BSE crisis, it is sometimes necessary to restructure ones business in order to boost failing income. Well, fair play to Mr Hughes (News, Mar 12). He should be commended because he has done just that – wound down his beef production and planned to increase his 70 strong dairy herd to 200.

But, alas, a neighbour has objected about night noise levels to Carmarthen County Council, which has responded by imposing a curfew on the cows between 10pm and 7am in order to protect his quality of life. The £150,000 development can go ahead only on the absurd condition that the cows do not moo above 5 decibels during their curfew. Now, to make comparisons, 30 decibels is equivalent to the acoustic condition of a bedroom at night, 60 decibels is equivalent to a conversation at 1m.

How ludicrous in that situation.

The complainant living in the countryside should expect to hear countryside noises and I question why he lives there if he objects to them? What is the countryside without countryside noises?

Come on, Carmarthenshire County Council, stop this farce now before you make yourselves look sillier.

Paul Weedon

6 Model Farm Cottages, Shirburn, Watlington, Oxon.

Cut just curb overcharging

I read with interest your article entitled "Spares prices are slashed" (Machinery, Mar 26). My company, Spaldings, has been the leading supplier of spare parts to UK farmers for more than 30 years and it is interesting to see that after all this time one of the most respected plough manufacturers in the UK, namely Dowdeswell, has decided to reduce the price of its spare parts by as much as 45%.

I suspect that most farmers with Dowdeswell ploughs will view this in the same way as we do at Spaldings, and that is it suggests the company has been over charging for many years. Even with these fantastically new low prices, our Spaldings parts for Dowdeswell ploughs still represent savings of more than 40% compared with Dowdeswell new spares prices.

There are a number of other issues which may mislead your readers. The article states that manufacturers invest many thousands of pounds developing their products. We at Spaldings spend more than a quarter of a million pounds annually on product development and quality control. Many of our spare parts are engineered to a standard in excess of the original equipment and have proved in field trials to outlast those parts generally known as genuine.

I am proud to tell our UK farmer customers, who number more than 45,000, that all products in our range are genuine Spaldings products and of guaranteed quality.

Dowdeswell sales manager Mike Alsop notes that "spare parts generate 25% of their turnover". Spare parts for Spaldings represent our entire business. That is why when people buy from Spaldings they buy from a company which has expertise in spare parts supply rather than expertise in capital machinery.

Dowdeswell states that price reductions have been made possible by savings in production costs and use of more competitively priced raw materials. If this is the case, has the price of the complete plough has also dropped by 45%?

David A Fox

Managing director, Spaldings (UK), Sadler Road, Lincoln.

Ear tags are not welfare friendly

It seems that we all go along with putting two tags in our animals ears so that a MAFF inspector can read them from a distance, and to comply with EU regulations.

I have had more animals with ripped ears in the past 12 months than I have had in the past 12 years. That cannot be good for the animals welfare and if it was not for the fact that we receive headage payments there would be no justification for the Ministry doing regular spot checks to read all of these ear tags.

I would like to think that someone is working on a more welfare friendly system that can be adopted as an EU standard.

David Cotton

LDWCOTTON@email.msn.com

Milk machine for Sri Lanka

Ten years ago, I visited Sri Lanka to train health workers in the high hills tea estates. I was lucky enough to find half of a hen house to use as a classroom. The farmer was a wonderful man who did a lot to train young people to increase their self-sufficiency skills.

He wrote recently asking if there was any possibility of my finding a disused milking machine. He had won a cow in the local agricultural show and, as he intended to increase his herd, he felt a machine to assist the milking would be useful. I wonder if any of your readers have one which I would take to Sri Lanka the next time I go. If anyone is interested in seeing pictures of the farm I would be happy to send some photos.

Mrs Marion Holland

1 Rectory Drive, Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Labour hits the smallest hardest

The latest disaster to hit small farmers is the change in IACS regulations which removes all relevant benefits, subsidies and quotas for holdings below 7.5ha.

We were led to believe that it would be the large farmers who would have their payments trimmed or capped. But now the government has done its best to finish off the smallest farms.

Fortunately, we are over the limit, but many will find this the final straw and will have to sell up.

Does the Labour government want the smallest working farms to sell up and be replaced with larger units?

It is scheming to buy land with IACS designation and then find it abruptly removed, thus devaluing it overnight.

Do we want to see all farmland in the hands of the Oliver Walstons and co?

W F Kerswell

Picklescott, Church Stretton, Shropshire.

TALKING POINT

As a land agent, brought up in the country, who lives in London and specialises in valuation, I read the wording of Michael Meachers announcement on the right to roam with considerable interest.

The first point to make is that all that has happened is a consultation document has been printed. There is no Bill nor any proposed date for when one might be introduced.

The second point is that the new right of access will apply only to "mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land". Specifically excluded are developed land and agricultural land except that used for extensive grazing. But there is the possibility of additional types of land, woodland perhaps, being added to the proposals after the consultation period ends.

Although the question of where is unclear, what is set out is that access is for people on foot only for the purposes of open air recreation and does not automatically include dogs. By implication off-road vehicles, mountain bikes and those coming on to land for say hang-gliding are not included.

Farmers will have the right to suspend access for certain limited periods and will continue to be responsible for the safety of those on their land as if they were trespassers.

From a valuers perspective what interests me are the financial effects of the proposed legislation. The document acknowledges that the proposals will have some cost implications but it appears to conclude that these will be small in relation to the benefits. This is presumably a reference to the cost and benefit appraisal set out in the executive summary of appraisal of options.

This suggests that the government is not prepared to pay compensation. So if a landowner can show what in legal jargon is known as diminution of value, which would make a claim for compensation justified, then that land might be excluded from the rights.

This seems to be consistent with the statement that "it is not intended to interfere unduly with peoples lives or livelihoods". A voluntary approach still appears to be seen as a key part of the overall initiative and perhaps the political aim is to provide something for the electorate at little or no public expense. The government, however, seems prepared for a battle. It anticipates that if compulsory access enforcement orders are used, 50% will be challenged and some may progress to the European Court of Human rights.

As someone who frequently appears in the High Court as an independent expert on valuation issues, it is almost inconceivable to me that public access to private land will have a neutral or nil effect on value. Diminution in value in this instance would be the drop in value of the land as a result of the public access. For example, any hampering of the farming activity which was both long-term and constant would be detrimental to land values.

In the same way, sportsmen will pay a premium for the right to enjoy field sports. Walkers may disturb both the game and the sportsman himself. If the sport becomes less desirable and demand drops the capital value of the asset will go in the same direction.

Although some individual owners may have the resources, initiative and facilities to benefit from public access, others may not. That could mean that the effect on value might be a factor of ownership as much as the characteristics of the land itself.

It is too early to tell if access will be granted en masse or progressively over time but I have little doubt that farmers will use their best endeavours to maintain and enhance the value of their asset. For those concerned about the capital value of their holdings, quantifying diminution and claiming compensation may be the best way of resisting enforced public access.


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