6 August 1999

The public just doesnt comprehend

I fully appreciate the efforts of the hunting lobby to defend its way of life and wish them every success. But its a pity its campaign is allowed to overshadow the plight of the real countryside and the people who still strive to earn a living there.

A way must be found to throw some light on todays agricultural problems and one good method would be to follow the excellent advice of Neil Datson (Talking Point, July 2) and lobby MPs to saturation point. Its mind-boggling just how ignorant the public is even now as to the government-inspired fiascos that plague todays farmers, and especially the livestock sector.

Only one in 20 had any idea of what is meant by the 30 month rule and even fewer appreciated the damage it is causing, the tragic waste involved or the complete senselessness of the whole scheme.

It is small comfort to be told that we can now export our beef when it must first be killed and boned-out in this country. With abattoirs closing down everywhere, it is doubtful if we still have the capacity to do it. In any case, Continental butchers will want animals that are freshly killed on their premises and will be little interested in stale lumps of meat that have been mauled about on lorries for days.

There are votes to be had in pandering to the rambling societies. But if they want to enjoy our beautiful countryside, they should be made aware that only a profitable agricultural industry can keep it beautiful. The same message should be passed on to the animal rights anarchists and all their fellow travellers.

Harry Shutkever

Wythwood Farm, Wilmore Lane, Wythall, Nr Birmingham.

Were all going bust anyway

Like most dairy farmers, I support MDCs work but since 12% of dairy farmers will be out of business in two years when the current research will be coming on stream, the organisation should put 12% of its income this year into a fighting fund. That money should be used to expose the underhand tactics of John Bridgeman and the Office of Fair Trading, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and the Dairy Industry Federation. The MMC report has been shown to be lies written for the DIF by the MMC.

The dairy companies are gearing up to use the MMC report as a reason to drop the price of milk by 1p/litre this winter which will cost the dairy farmers £142m. Money spent on preventing that will give a better and quicker return than any research.

Mr Bridgeman and the OFT have done more damage than the strong £. He has cost me more than all the mastitis and lameness on my farm for the past 10 years.

Its time for dairy farmers to rise up and get rid of these non-elected civil servants who do not risk their own money in business but cost others so much. Those of us that are left must make a stand – before its too late.

P Skinner

Pilgrims Farm, Pilgrims Lane, Titsey, Oxted, Surrey.

Would Byers take 88 salary?

I have been producing milk for over 30 years and for the past few years I have been losing money. Last years prices averaged 9.317p/pint. The same average as 1988.

However, the trade secretary, Stephen Byers, tells me the price of milk is too high. Would he work for the same salary as he was receiving 11 years ago? Perhaps he would come to my farm and explain where I am going wrong?

M J Stocker

Coombe Hill Farm, Keinton Mandeville, Somerton, Somerset.

No future in euro currency

As Mr Seals says (Talking Point, Jul 23) the euro should have been economic not political. What is of great concern, is that the EU heads of government, including ours, should believe the currency would be strong.

When the Maastricht criteria were abandoned to allow all bar Greece to enter, the euro could represent only the sum of those currencies. But the main concern is the federalism, which the single currency has to lead to, is also bound to be weak just as the currencies and economies of the Latin American countries would not improve if they integrated.

The fact is that countries with different languages, cultures and religions retain their individualism. At best, the EU will be an inefficient, ineffective compromise with each country out to get what it can.

Companies with only three bosses, not 15, work only if one dies and another one is ill.

George Scales

Cobblers Pieces, Ongar, Essex.

Marque should get backing

At last, someone is standing up for farmers. I refer, of course, to your report, "Marque given nod" (News, July 23) in which fighting Finn Christensen declared that Milk Marque has to build a £50m processing plant.

The flag is now at the top of the Milk Marque mast and should stay there. Despite the ludicrous report from the Competitions Commission and referral to the Office of Fair Trading, Milk Marque must go ahead with its plans to process high quality traceable milk for use in food products currently made from imported milk additives.

The government has called for import substitution and told farmers they must compete on the world stage. So why doesnt it encourage Milk Marque? Why has the NFU been so slow to recommend its members to stick together in their own co-operative.

If the processors wont exploit the market for milk products, farmers must do it themselves. Milk Marque must get on with it now before the dairy trade costs the consumers more money in lost opportunities.

Housewives and their families should be told the truth about the cost of food, particularly milk and processed dairy products. Milk Marque has done more to hold a fair price for fresh milk than any of the large processors but got no credit for it and lost membership by doing so.

Without a strong Milk Marque producer-co-operative, processors and supermarkets would have a field day with milk. Competition would be nearly absent and the loss leader fresh milk sales would be replaced with profit-making shelf fillers in the form of dairy produce.

We were told this government would give everyone a fair deal. What about the bad practices which are really against the public good?

In my locality, every newspaper is owned by one company which controls all the weekly and daily newspapers for hundreds of miles around. If trade secretary Mr Byers investigated that he would do millions of local newspaper readers and small business advertisers a good turn.

David Parker

Home Close, Teffont, Salisbury.

More cows and lower prices

With the ending of the bull calf slaughter scheme, and the increase in female inseminations, the result, without doubt, will be extra females coming into the dairy herd. That will depress still further an already over-supplied market, which is bound to result in further decreases in producers prices.

J Hopkins

62 Churchfields, Thurgoland, Nr Sheffield.

Differing milk tastes for all

NDC marketing manager Andrew Ovenss response to my plea (Letters, July 2) that promoting milk to be drunk at room temperature, rather than ice-cold, ignores my point that it could unearth a new, additional, market.

Generations have been persuaded by the media, their mothers, and their schoolteachers, that drinking chilled milk from the fridge is the right way, and it has become the convention. Sixty years ago it was rather necessary, since milk was contaminated with micro-organisms, pathogenic and otherwise, and would have spoiled quickly .

The attitude that we all must have the same tastes seems to have been inherited from the old MMBs. The admirable initiatives to promote added-value products such as Ayrshire, Guernsey, organic, buffalo and sheep milk show that we do not.

John Jenkin

5B South Cliff Tower, Meads,

Large farmers control vote

As a member of the council of the NFU for the past nine years I have consistently advocated modulation and have been outvoted because the council has a majority of large-scale farmers. And lets face it – turkeys dont vote for Christmas.

NFU statistics show that 80% of its members farm fewer than 200 acres and it is unlikely these would be penalised under any form of modulation. In reply to the MAFF questionnaire, more than 75% favoured capping.

If we assume the old cliche that 20% of farmers produce 80% of the food, we can safely conclude that those 20% receive 80% of the subsidies. Therefore the majority of NFU members (80%) receive the minority support (20%). That suggests the larger (economical farms) do not need the same subsidy as the smaller family farms.

A form of modulation, which I advocate, would be fairer to all concerned. The first 50,000 or 60,000ecu would be paid at 100% and the next unit at 75%, and so on. It seems to me that the present system of support only hastens the demise of the small family farm.

There is a better idea, and that is the bond system of support introduced by Prof Tangermann, Prof Marsh and others, 10 years ago. The bond system involves payments based on averaging the previous years support which could be delivered as a lump sum to enable those who wish to get out of farming to do so. No further support would then be paid to that farm, or paid over a limited period of years in the form of a bond. This idea was rejected by the NFU when I, together with others including Lord Plumb, presented it to them.

Alas, we will still end up with a system imposed on us which will bear no relation to farmers farming for the countryside.

Gordon Ascroft

Church Farm, Yelling, Huntingdon, Cambs.

Europe farm issues defined

I was surprised to read your editorial (Opinion, July 23) suggesting that the leader of the Conservative MEPs had deprived Britains farmers of an important voice. Edward McMillan-Scott MEP, himself from a farming background, has appointed five Conservative MEPs to the European parliaments agriculture committee, where Robert Sturdy MEP will continue as spokesman. James Elles MEP, a former DGVI official, is chairman of the agriculture, fisheries and budgets working group of the 234-strong centre-right EPP-ED group. James Provan MEP, a farmer, is Conservative vice-president of the Parliament and John Corrie MEP, another farmer, is co-president of the African, Caribbean and Pacific committee. Lastly, Caroline Jackson MEP has taken the chair of the environment committee.

The issue is not, as you suggest, a choice between agriculture and ACP – it is between agriculture and environment. As former president of the NFU, the European Parliament and the ACP Assembly, as well as chairman of the Conservative MEPs and the agriculture committee, let me assure your readers that the environment committee is legislative, in that it now has full "co-decision" powers with the council of ministers. It has been responsible, under Labour chairmanship, for a stream of red tape covering rural issues, such as new laws on integrated pollution control, hygiene, water and animal welfare.

The agriculture committee, while influential, has consultative status only, since almost all agricultural issues are decided between the council of ministers and the Commission.

Lastly, the European Parliament uses an internal PR system in allocating the chairmanships and vice-chairmanships of committees. Under this, the Green Partys 50 MEPs chose farmer Friedrich Graefe zu Baringdorf to chair the agriculture committee, which would otherwise have been taken by the German Socialists. Under PR it was not possible for the Conservative MEPs even to get a vice-chairmanship of agriculture. However, I know that, as before, they are all committed to the well-being of British farming and the rural community, and now as president of the Conservative Agricultural Forum, I am always around to keep an eye on them.

Lord Plumb of Coleshill.

High index isnt the only criteria

After an enjoyable day at the Royal Show viewing fine cattle of many dairy and beef breeds, I feel compelled to write on my concerns about the extreme nature of the black and white dairy cattle on display.

No one doubts the conviction of those who keep these cattle that they are the ideal cow to produce milk. However, I note doubts about the future of these so-called high index cows ability to produce profitably at the current milk price. The heavy use of British Friesian semen in commercial herds suggested many farmers are already taking action to adapt to different milk production conditions. After listening to their views, it is clear many believe that it is imperative they have long living as well as productive cows.

The British Friesians dual purpose virtues are now back in vogue and the demand for quality suckler replacements and other forms of cross, as well as pure cattle, are making a big difference to the balance sheets of many efficient modern units. Without doubt the Holstein is discredited when it comes to the beef sector. Although that may be of no consequence to the pedigree world, at the commercial end a large and valuable market is available to them.

I worry that everyone is being bombarded with the index-mentality. Read the auctioneers forthcoming sales lists and you see a different story. Herd after herd is for sale; many are well above the average-sized operation. The small to medium-sized family type operation is coping as well as any in these desperate times and many will be dual purpose units.

The media should give more attention to the dual purpose option as a counter to the interests of the high-index Holstein promoters.

Rodger Lindsay

Floriston Rigg, Blackford, Carlisle.

Co-op will hit market towns

I write concerning your article All Wales Marketing Co-op (News, Jul 16). The subject appears to be the brainchild of MLC following Mr Huw Thomass visit to New Zealand.

If this proposal succeeds, it will spell the end of most Welsh fatstock markets. That has always been the desire of the MLC as far as finished stock is concerned. Do farmers want this? Few store markets can exist as sale centres without fatstock sales. This will result in the decline of market towns. How much did Mr Thomas learn in New Zealand?

Lamb buyers are few there, prices and bonuses are low and returns poor. Most lambs sell for about £10 or so. He does not mention this. Without competition, prices will always be low. The auction markets are the only places to provide competition. Mr Thomas has poured scorn on the failure of Welsh Quality Lamb. He has also forgotten what happened to FMC, Shropshire Fatstock and also other co-ops and groups which all failed.

Milk Marque has virtually failed. Why should this venture succeed? Only a small percentage of sheep producers have subscribed to Farmers Ferry and I cannot see them queuing up to finance this proposed new venture. The MLC, Alan Michael, Christine Gwyther and John Lloyd Jones of the NFU are living in a fools paradise. They should know that the buying strength of the supermarkets, by encouraging deadweight selling, have lowered beef, lamb and pig prices. Deadweight selling reduces the number of buyers in the market place and consequently reduces competition. How do they think that the co-op will improve lamb prices? In my view it will lower prices further as market competition will evaporate.

Welsh farmers, I hope, will not be sucked in by the proposal of the Welsh Food Strategy. They should keep their £75 subscription in their pocket and join the Farmers Ferry.

R G Williams

Hill Farm, Marstow, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire.

BBSRC support for best research

You report (Arable, Jul 23) a statement for the Home-Grown Cereals Authority which refers to a reduction in funding for agri-food research by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The BBSRC has increased its support for research relevant to these sectors over the past two years. Our total spend in this subject area for 1998-99 was £37.7m and this is planned to increase each year to £41m in 2001-02.

I have also noted your report on the plans to consolidate the Institute of Arable Crops Research (IACR) at the Rothamsted site.

BBSRCs decision to withdraw from the Long Ashton site of IACR is part of a £19m programme of investment at the Institutes Rothamsted site over the next four years. This will account for over half our capital expenditure budget for that period. It is the clearest indication of our commitment both to the institute and to our support for securing the highest calibre research in support of UK agriculture.

I am disappointed that this strengthening of the Institute was reported as "bad news for farming". BBSRC will ensure that science continues to come first in our planning decisions. This will include not only the transfer of top quality research from Long Ashton to Rothamsted but also the responsible provision of appropriate arrangements to ensure that facilities such as the National Willows Collection are not lost.

We are always available to provide details and background information to all our activities.

Ray Baker

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Polaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon.

Please, let us use computers

As government ministers pack their bags for the parliamentary recess they heap yet another burden on beleaguered British cattle farmers.

A registration fee for calves of £7 is not an unexpected figure, given the way in which the system has been set up. Pushing paper around is expensive, especially when it all goes in first class post and much has to be sent twice when mistakes are made.

Would the same charges have to be levied if the emphasis were on electronic data transfer? The technology is available to ensure that trees are pulped only as a last resort in the effort to ensure total traceability for the consumer.

The mandarins should realise that farmers are becoming enthusiastic and adept in embracing information technology. Most progressive livestock farmers have invested in computers already, and would be willing to use them to greater effect if only the ministry had the foresight to make it a priority.

E-mailing all the required information to and fro is fast, accurate and cheap. A charge of £7 for a passport applied for in this way cannot be justified.

The NFU is proposing to dig its heels in and argue that no charge should be levied. That position is unrealistic and fails to accept the reality of a system that world markets demand, and that must be seen to, work properly.

A better negotiating stance would be to insist on realistic charges for farmers who have already invested in technology and an insistence that the government takes immediate steps to catch up with the modern world.

Simon Rees-Jones

Orchid Data, 7 Darwin House, Corbygate Business Park, Corby, Northants.

Making move to France easy

As a bilingual British agricultural consultant offering a successful installation service since 1989, for farmers wishing to settle in France, I would like to reply to Clive Edwards (Letters, June 4) and Peter Mayo (Letters, June 25). Not all agents should be tarred with the same brush.

Both omitted to mention that on the course at Limoges, there was a satisfied client of mine who had been installed in a short space of time in a neighbouring area. My comprehensive service covers all the points they seem to feel agents neglect. I offer a personalised service for individuals, families or companies wishing to buy/rent and I am totally independent, working in conjunction with the administration, banks, accountants and agricultural organisations throughout France in whichever region suits the clients interests best. There is government/regional aid (low interest rate loans/grants) for farmers of all age groups. I am there to ensure my clients take advantage of these.

I undertake to look after clients from the initial search to dealing with copious paperwork, and all the legal procedures, where necessary through a notaire/avocat. Help is given with the organising the removal of equipment and stock from the UK, and arranging the obtaining/transfer of quotas, and the marketing of livestock and cereals. It even extends to sorting out new school arrangements for children.

Any farmer thinking of moving to France should contact me. If you avail yourself of my services, you will not only have the benefit of my experience, but also the reassurance of talking to previously installed farmers, which will help to dispel the myth that all agents are crooks. Moving to France is not always hassle-free, but if you are totally committed to a more positive future, the end result will be worth it. You will be welcomed as a fellow farmer rather than a foreigner and supported by a government that cares about smaller farmers.

George Lidbury

The Barton, North Petherwin, Cornwall.

Knives going in on TV…

I refer to the recent Channel 4 programme, Countryside Undercover – Free as a bird (C4, 9pm Thurs, July 22). Farmers are suffering tough times and the publics image of our industry isnt great. So why is Daniel Butler betraying fellow free-range egg producers and tarnishing an already dim image that farmers have.

Is he trying to get larger free-range units exposed and closed down so he can expand and fill the gap? Or have I missed a point? Is he really trying to help the image of egg farmers. It beats me?

In times like these, we should all stick together and not shoot each other in the back. So, if youre going to make a documentary for TV, make it count for us and not against us.

Rob Makillie

Allegations on BBC were false

You may remember a Private Investigations programme on BBC2 on August 26 last year which featured three pig farms which were supposedly contravening MAFF animal welfare regulations. I am the owner of one of those farms, and ex-employer of the presenter, Ian Dickinson. I have spent the past nine months taking the BBCs producers to the Broadcasting Standards Commission, to complain that the programme was neither fair nor accurate but deceitful and rigged.

My complaint was upheld and an apology was broadcast on July 14 on BBC2, and published in the Daily Mail the same day. It would benefit the whole meat industry for as many people as possible to be made aware that these allegations have been shown to be false.

Stephen Fall

Kirklington Hall, Bedale, North Yorks.

Burning will alienate public

I was surprised to read Mr J Foulds letter (Jul 23) in which he suggests that farmers should be allowed to burn at least 30% of their cereal stubble.

Ignore the bureaucracy which would be required to monitor "limited stubble burning albeit with conditions".

And overlook the fact that the environmental damage would be caused by a resumption of stubble burning. In terms of the greenhouse effect alone, burning is likely to outweigh the advantage of using fewer sprays.

The most worrying aspect is Mr Foulds apparent disregard of public opinion. British agriculture has enough problems already without pursing changes in legislation which are likely to alienate the public.

I am a farmers son actively involved in running the family farm but earning most of my income from consultancy in the waste management industry. I cannot think of another industry, with the exception of the explosives industry for considerations of safety, which is allowed to dispose of a significant percentage of its waste by burning on open fires.

The outcry which would follow an application from another industry for the open burning of its waste, could only be imagined. There is no reason why agriculture should expect to be treated differently.

The Bryant and May baler was rightly banned and this should remain the case.

Anthony Kenney-Herbert

Rolstone, Hewish, nr Weston-Super-Mare, North Somerset.


Suckler cow replacements could soon be priced like gold dust – even though the beefing characteristics of dairy-sourced animals continues to slide down the Holstein route.

That means farmers must quickly organise alternative supplies. Not just so they can secure better quality animals but because they also face a 15% gap between their annual requirement and the number of bulling heifers on the ground.

It is a situation that has crept up on the industry because the initial reaction of many suckled calf breeders to the increased narrowness of rump and thigh was to hold back heifers of their own which would otherwise have gone for slaughter.

However this detour has run into a brick wall. Current replacements are seven-eighths pure and the only solution for most is to either set up a two herd system or drag themselves back to the dairy herd.

They could get a shock. Not only are the latest dairy bred heifers even more scrawny, they are also more expensive. The increasing softness of the Holstein has pulled down beef cow fertility and longevity and they are going like hot cakes in response to a sudden hike in the replacement rate to almost 20%.

The figures are startling. NBA has calculated that as long as the suckler herd sticks at its current level of 1.92m head the industry will need up to 380,000 breeding heifers a year but the last census showed that only 269,000 in-calf beef heifers were on the ground.

However help may be at hand because the imminent revision of LFA support payments offers a golden opportunity to go back to basics and re-introduce hill breeding cows to large tracts of disadvantaged land.

These animals almost disappeared from bent and molinia pastures 30-40 years ago when the British Friesian crosses emerged as the dominant suckler cow.

But if breed societies, hill farmers, administrators, environmentalists and auction markets can pull together in a multi-platformed and common effort, a large herd of hill cattle could soon be re-established and the supply shortage of specialist bulling beef heifers substantially eased.

There would be many advantages. It would not only improve the quality of the beef herd but also help to spread hill sheep grazing over a wider area and be popular with environmentalists because it would encourage a wider range of plant and animal life too.

And the move could also be seen as a clever response to market forces because the extensive nature of the system would help to underpin beef as a superior and therefore high priced, retail product.

However progress will not be quick – and even then a huge effort will be needed because the existing pool of hill cows is as lean as the landscape on which they roam.

Rough calculations indicate that an all-Britain basis there may be no more than 15,000 to 18,000 which means their heifer calf output could be limited to no more than 6,000 to 7,000 head a year. So there is a huge shortfall between supply and the annual 380,000 head industry requirements for replacements.

There are other sources such as a concentration on calves from more acceptable British Friesian cows and the establishment of specialist herds of composites initially bred in the United States.

But it is hard to see the suckler beef industry being able to maintain both the quality and the numbers of its bulling heifer replacements unless it puts substantially more hill cows, many of them no doubt of a more modern type, back on land they used to graze 40 years before.

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