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Interview with Mark Howard, farmer


Interview date: 15 January 2003

Interview location:  Weston Park Farm, Weston-on-the-Green, Bicester. Oxfordshire. OX25 3QE.

Interviewee: Mark Howard

Interviewer: Eka Morgan

Transcript key: EM: Interviewer Eka Morgan; MH: Mark Howard


9.0.           EM: Okay, Iím just going to introduce the interview, this is Eka Morgan interviewing Mark Howard in Weston-on-the-Green on 15th January 2003, umm, Iím going to start by just asking you Mark, how you got into farming

9.1.           MH: Okay, well Iíve, umm been in farming all my life, umm, I was born into, err, a traditional farming family, umm, we, weíre been here on this farm all of my life certainly

9.2.           EM: Sorry, oh gosh, sorry, I thought you were going to expand, yup, ha, ha, ha, okay

9.3.           MH: So you want it again

9.4.           EM: No

9.5.           MH: It will take me a little time to get into it

9.6.           EM: No, no, itís fine, I was really, it was slightly just testing the level, because itís a bit unpredictable somehow

9.7.           MH: Right

9.8.           EM: Thatís fine, no, no, thatís absolutely fine answer, umm, and so you grew up on other farms

9.9.           MH: No, no, um, basically, when my father came out of the army, umm, soon after I was born, he bought the farm, in Wendlebury, which is about a mile down the road, and over the last, forty years I suppose, weíve gradually built up, the acreage, and when I left university in 1980 I came back and actually took on this specific farm

9.10.       EM: And did you study, agriculture specifically at all

9.11.       MH: Yes, just straightforward agriculture at university, yeah

9.12.       EM: Right, and no other agricultural college or anything like that

9.13.       MH: No, no, well, not until recently, umm, and then for the last eighteen months Iíve been studying down at Cirencester for an MBA in Agri. and Food err Industries

9.14.       EM: Ah, right, and this is a huge question early on in an interview but as youíre someone, not everyone Iíve interviewed has grown up on, a farm, I mean, what are the changes that you have seen, in farming, well, you farmed for, was it twenty

9.15.       MH: Twenty three years in my own right, yes

9.16.       EM: And then your childhood

9.17.       MH: I think, I mean, the most, the most obvious change is mechanisation, um, but as you say that covers a massive, umm, total sphere really, but the main spin-off from mechanisation is the lack of people that now are on the farm, compared with, what there were here, twenty, forty years ago, certainly when I took on this farm, umm, we employed a total of six people, and now we employ no one, and we literally employee contractors or I do the work myself as and when, as and when necessary, so that is the, the biggest change, and the, from a, umm, a business point of view, I think the biggest change has been, the transition from, farming being an industry which is, err, supported, and indeed encouraged by the Government and umm, theyíre actually distorting or influencing the market for agricultural products, post war, to now, where, the total reverse is true, umm, and that we have become so dependent on subsidies which are themselves now being taken away, because there is no need for the amount of production which that have, or at least, that is what is perceived

9.18.       EM: Do you have an answer to the subsidy question

9.19.       MH: Hum, given, given where we have come from with the subsidies, I think itís very difficult to, cut them off, umm, because specifically British, but European farming in general has grown up with an infrastructure which has been put there in response to the subsidies in the system, so that infrastructure is still there, which gives us, a high cost of production, so if the subsidies were just taken away, then we would still be left with that, err, disadvantage, but without any new markets or any real, umm, benefits to increase the, the profitability of our businesses, what the mid-term review in the Common Agricultural Policy is trying to do, is to shift the subside from production based towards environmental and rural development, which is fine, and I would certainly agree with that, umm, the question is, given where we start from, how do you do that equitably and certainly from all, umm, the farming industry, in the UK, at the minute subside is being taken away from the total production and can only come back through certain ways back into environmental and, and, err rural economy development, so what Iím saying is that, the monies being taken away from everyone, and only a few are getting it back, so, that obviously means, err, and it, itís actually transposing into a radical change in the structure of farming as we see it

9.20.       EM: One, thatís very, one thing, can you not do too much of that

9.21.       MH: Sorry

9.22.       EM: Because the microphone picks it up

9.23.       MH: Yeah

9.24.       EM: Ha, ha

9.25.       MH: Yup

9.26.       EM: Do you, where do you stand in relation to that with the EU, do you feel that being part of the EU is good for British farming, or detrimental to it

9.27.       MH: I think, again you have to, I mean, itís, itís the old situation where we, we wouldnít start from here if we could, but given that we do start from here, I think umm, we have no option really but to remain in the EU, while at least, while we make from the transition from err, a totally subside based production orientated umm, industry, to one which is more in line with just, being park keepers I suppose, which is the old clichť, that is, that is being used an awful lot, but I think, at the minute we have so much structure that is, umm, in place, as a result of the EU, and there is a lot of potential good that could come out of the EU, that I think, on balance, we are better off, being err, within, within the EU, the biggest problem of course, is when you talk, start talking about enlargement of the EU, and that will put tremendous pressure on the total budget, but in specifically in the, the agricultural budget because I mean that is more than half of, of total EU budget

9.28.       EM: One of the farmers I interviewed said that Germany has flouted over four hundred agricultural regulations, France over three hundred and Britain three

9.29.       MH: I think, hmm, I thinks thatís, thatís very true, Britain very much is, umm, accused by itís farmers of gold-plating all regulations and taking everything very literally, and I can certainly compare that with, umm, my farming experience in France, whereby, umm, the regulations are the same, cause they come from the same, err, legislature, but, in France there is much more, umm, of a sympathetic attitude towards farmers and although they try and implement the regulations or directives, properly, umm, they have, Government advisors to tell farmers how to do it to the farmers best advantage, whereas over here, our equivalent of those Government advisors, umm, tell us, what we should and shouldnít be doing

9.30.       EM: Government inspectors

9.31.       MH: Exactly, there is, there is a difference there

9.32.       EM: What, in the long term, what do you think will happen about that fact that, that, Britain seems to be towing the line a bit more and other countries seem to be, I mean, do you feel that they, they should be, do you feel that they held, do you feel that they should be more answerable, more answerable the French and German farmers

9.33.       MH: No I, I, I donít actually think, it will always be so, because of the culture of A, the people and B, the Governmentís resulting from those people, so I think, un, unless, over a period of time the actual cultures change,  I donít see there any, any think different, umm, certainly in the medium term, and if the French, choose to do, umm, that type of thing with, with their money and help the farmers to, to use it then, then best of luck to them, and more fool us for not being able to get our Government to do the same

9.34.       EM: And do you think, it would be good for farming to join the Euro

9.35.       MH: At, at the, again, currently, starting from where we are, yes, it would be better, we would be better off, if we joined the Euro, apart from anything else, all of the subsides that we still have, and are likely to get in the medium term are all Euro based, so the, if we could take out the exchange rate variable from that, then obviously we would know a lot more, securely where weíre, where our incomes going to come from

9.36.       EM: Okay, umm, I do want to ask you about the French farm that youíve mentioned, but Iím going to go into a bit more detail about kind of how you stay in contact with whatís happening, umm, but before, before that, I just wanted to ask you, if you could describe a typical day on your farm, sort of, when you get up and what you might do and

9.37.       MH: At the minute, err, or now, there are

9.38.       EM: Maybe itís seasonal, maybe two

9.39.       MH: There are actually no typical days really because, umm, because of the situation in, in, in farming at four hundred and fifty acres I am now, err, a barely viable farm, given that I am producing beef and cereals which are still considered commodity products, given that, then I have had to try and umm, get income from off the farm, and so, a lot, lot of days are spent in my work, which are, off farm, umm, off farm based, so, hmm, the, hmm, sorry, the umm, the arable side of things is mainly contracted out, umm, which has the advantage of me not having to have my money tired up in expensive material, and err, the contractor can come in and do operations, when theyíre needed rather than, umm, me having to go and repair a tractor to get ready for, for this, that or the other, umm, the beef animals, given that they are store animals, they are fairly low, umm, as far as the labour intensity is concerned, so I can do them, around umm, as, as and when, as and when I can

9.40.       EM: Could you explain store animals

9.41.       MH: Err, the, the, the beef store animals, hmm, I buy in at err, three months old, and err, rear them up for err the further eighteen, umm, twenty months and then sell them at err, about two years old, as fat cattle, normally through umm, Thame market, or for private buyers if, if possible

9.42.       EM: So in the height of the summer is your typical day, slightly more, like, err, is it a bit different

9.43.       MH: Umm, no, to be honest, a lot of my, time, is now spent away from the farm, and so err, the, the actual farming routine, goes on, and around me and I, and I dip in and dip out as and when needed, rather than, there is no typical day at the minute to be honest

9.44.       EM: Okay, umm, does, err, youíve got three children havenít you, I think

9.45.       MH: Hmm

9.46.       EM: Two at err

9.47.       MH: Two at Oxford schools

9.48.       EM: No, two, is it two boys

9.49.       MH: Two boys and a girl, yeah

9.50.       EM: I mean, how, what does, how, have they expressed an interest in farming in the future and would you advise them to go into farming in the future

9.51.       MH: As far as, err, hmm, [coughing], sorry

9.52.       EM: Do you want some water

9.53.       MH: Yeah, some of this, more or less, itís very hot in here as well

9.54.       EM: Yeah, it is quite hot

9.55.       MH: But I canít open a window cause itíll be too err

9.56.       EM: Too cold

9.57.       MH: Itíll be too err

9.58.       EM: Oh too noisy

9.59.       MH: No, too noisy

9.60.       [inaudible comments]

9.61.       MH: As far as, as far children are concerned, umm, I would not actively, umm, push them to go into farming, I would love them to, come back onto the farming, and enjoy the, the way of life, that is farming, still, but I think itís very important for young people these days, to, certainly get a qualification, and preferably, experience outside the farm, then having done that, if they then want to come back to the farm, then err, thatís great, but at least, if things do go wrong they have another string to their bow, which they can fall back on, and letís be honest, unless youíre farming in a big way, or with err, high niche, high value niche products, or fairly intensively then there wonít be the income there in the future, to compare with other industries or, other service industries certainly

9.62.       EM: Did your parents encourage you to go into farming

9.63.       MH: My parents, umm,  were glad that I did come back but likewise they certainly didnít push me, and umm, err my father certainly did, want me to go away and do other things rather then come back, err straight away to, to the farm

9.64.       EM: How, you say youíre the only person on the farm and occasionally you get in contract workers for various things, how does, I mean, that, how, having experienced with more people on the farm, what, what does that actual feel like for you, to suddenly be on your own

9.65.       MH: I think from a err, feeling point of feeling point of view, the farm now feels very empty, I mean , we have been err, in the past, for the past, twenty five years here, been dairying, and so thereís been a lot of activity, once the dairy cows go, it does feel, very much like a ghost farm, because there is a lot of activity with dairy farming, umm, as with all livestock, livestock farming, but there is, it is the same with, with the whole of agriculture, there is this, this change where, where people, where living things are going off the land and certainly in Oxfordshire here, I mean itís becoming almost like a livestock desert, the number of dairy farmers, the number of err beef farmers, that are going out of business or, just ceasing that side of the operation, so itís, itís becoming very quiet, which is almost eerie, err, if you know what I mean, having said that, err, we are trying to, err, use the building assets that we have by renting them out to people and so you do get some degree of activity, but obviously itís a totally different type of activity, to, to livestock

9.66.       EM: And how do you find local peopleís reaction to you, do, what, what do think is their image of you as the local farmer

9.67.       MH: I think, from a farming point of view, or from, from local villagers sort of thing

9.68.       EM: Oh, I meant villagers but Iíd be interested, in farmers as well

9.69.       MH: Hum, I think, the public in general, and that goes for most people living in villages around here, have lost touch with what farming means, the only real contact that people come in, in, in, with, with farmers is when they look over the hedge to see whatís happening rather than actually go onto the farm, so I think most people donít really understand what is happening to farms and, umm, certainly in the press, all that one tends to hear are farmers moaning about lack of income, diseases in the animals, bad whether and all this sort o thing, so there is a generally, a fairly negative attitude, I think, to the image of farming, which isnít actually the case

9.70.       EM: And how does that affect your moral

9.71.       MH: I think, because I do quite a bit of work off the farm, I can, can rise, rise above that, and so actually, I can the other side of umm, err, the other side of things, so it, it doesnít really matter, but I think if one was, restricted to, just being on the farm, then umm, it could have a fairly, fairly negative impact, I think

9.72.       EM: And what about you were going to mention also that in the farming community, the kind of relations with other farmers around

9.73.       MH: I think, umm, I think farmers in general have umm, all been hit with the same sledge hammer and, in as much as the income has dropped right through the floor, so everyone is trying to think of others ways of getting an income, so everyone is very interested in what everyone else is doing, to, to get round that problem, we all have different ideas and, some farmers just try and err, concentrate on the, the assets, whether itís livestock building or land that they have and actually try and make that better, which is great, other people try and diversify, by the buildings, using the buildings for different umm activities or whatever, and other people use there own personal assets, i.e.. what they are or what their family is, to, to try and get more income in as well, Iíve tried to, to do all of those three in, in certain proportions, and I would like to think that everyone, all of my farming neighbours would be able to identify with a bit of all that, so, weíre all trying, weíre all fighting against the tide and weíre all trying to, to stop drowning, and the one thing about farming is that, unlike, normal commercial industry, if I put it like that, farmers have always been very keen to share ideas and share experiences, and so hopefully, perhaps Iím being, naive and optimistic, but I actually think that it is one way in which the farming industry as a whole will actually get out of the mess is, is by sharing best practice and, and what weíre all doing, so hopefully, umm, you know, everyone will, try and share ideas

9.74.       EM: Why do you think that is, cause you could think that in a competitive market you might want to be a bit cagey about, your miracle wheat growing techniques

9.75.       MH: I think that stems very much from the historical attitude of farming umm, going right back to the war when everyone was, had the effort, the umm, the feeling of feeding Britain, we were all mucking in together, and, and if someone could produce a bit more wheat, then it was great for the whole country and so shared that experience with everyone and how to do it, and I think, underlying, that now, is the, the main problem of farming, is that we see ourselves as competitors because we donít have individual markets, we sell commodities to invariably the same buyer and, and that buyer will either buy or not, to all of us individually or severally, so itís, we donít have that competitive feeling within the farming industry, which, perhaps we ought to, but itís difficult, given what we produce

9.76.       EM: And have you had any comments from locals that show this, lack of understanding or complaints even, about how you conduct yourself on your farm

9.77.       MH: No, I donít think so, I think umm, I think itís, itís very much a question of, of sharing experiences, and in, in particular, err, at the minute trying to diversify or re-use ones assets on the farms, in variably we all come up against planning, err, whether thatís actually putting up or changing buildings, or change of use of buildings, and itís, itís actually a very valuable forum for exchange of experiences as to how you either do or do not go about umm, approaching the planning people

9.78.       EM: And the reason I ask that is some other farmers have, have, err said that locals have said err your manure is too smelly and your farmhand milking the cows early on Sunday morning is interrupting our lie-ins and these kind of comments which do show an extraordinary lack of understanding about

9.79.       MH: Yeah, yeah, I think, where this farm is situated it, itís far enough away from anyone actually to not, worry the neighbours, but there is certainly, err, a lack of understanding which is shown by the villagers, for example, umm, when they go past the farm gate and there happens to be a bit of mud on the road, then, you know, that is, umm, certainly causes angst amongst, amongst people, and, I think there is a general luck, lack of understanding, umm, because most of the villages around here have become, what Iíd term dormitory villages, umm, and most people do travel quite some distance to work, so they go away in the morning and come back in the evening and they donít really understand whatís going on around their house anyway

9.80.       EM: Now I wanted to go on to, to asking you a bit about contact, how you keep in contact with, with whatís happening, how, what is your main form of finding out the latest news in farming techniques

9.81.       MH: The obvious, obvious ways of keeping informed with farming are err the journals such as the Farmers Weekly and things like that, are, are, very valuable, but I tend to find most farming journals are fairly introspective, I suppose, as a result of the, the audience that theyíre actually aiming at, they want to tell specific things to specific people, I think the most important thing, is, is to be generally aware of whatís happening and for that obviously the, you know, the general press, and I think it, it helps to put farming in perspective, umm, by keeping very well informed as to whatís happening in the world in general, as far as farming ideaís specifically are concerned, Iím actually fairly involved with the National Farmers Union, and so umm, from that perspective, I, Iím very privileged actually, as a, as a farmer in as much as I get some very high quality information, which is not only information but, umm, the NFU staff have, almost translated it or interpreted it such that, I can read it and it has real relevance to my business and the business of, of farmers round about, the NFU actually is a very, err, good and continuous source of information, and going back to what we were saying about the European side of things, the NFU has a very good office in Brussels and, not only does it, lobby and input, into legislation before actually it gets on the, on the statute book, it also has a information gathering service and interpretation service which is, well certainly second to none in farming, and it actually makes sense of some of the legislation thatís coming out of there and we can interpret it, and past that onto other people, and that again is a, is a another, umm, major benefit of the sharing nature of, of farming, I think, when we do have our meetings we can disseminate information that we have received and umm, question then can be asked, by other people, and we can pass those back up, to err, to get more information back

9.82.       EM: I want to ask you more about the NFU, but what you said about Farmers Weekly being introspective, how could it be less introspective do you think

9.83.       MH: I think, umm, I, I donít think it would be as popular with the farm, with the farming community if it was less introspective than it is, because thatís what they want, what I would prefer to have is more, umm, involved with, allied businesses, allied industries, but which arenít specifically farming, I mean take an example, the umm, chemical industry has a massive impact on farming through fertiliser prices and things like this, it would be, very beneficial to have umm, those types of industries, properly explored and explained in, in the farming press, rather than concentrating on whether or not the price of fertiliserís going to go up or down by ten pounds a ??tonne??, hmm, it gives a very, umm, narrow and introspective view as, as, to how farmers conduct their business, and I think this is where farmers have gone wrong, certainly in the immediate past, in that we havenít looked at ourselves as A, businesses, and B, as businesses in the wider business climate

9.84.       EM: As a non farmer, I find it staggering, how farmers have enough time to do all the paper work, attend NFU meetings, you know, keep up to date in various ways and do work on the farm, it just seems theyíre, you know, I mean we all know, that farmers are busy people but it does seem, that there can not possibly be enough hours in the day to

9.85.       MH: No,  cert, certainly when, umm, when you choose to do those sort of things, then, there are issues that suffer, and I think personally, family life suffers, and looking back, or at least when I look back, in ten years time, Iíll, I will wish that I had spent more time with the family, and although, people can say that, with a lot of careers, and, and most people during their career, have to put their family second when they shouldnít be, through necessity, I think farming is, different in that respect because farmers are at home, and so there is a more, acute awareness, that, the person isnít involved in family life because they are here and yet not, if you know what I mean, and so family life certainly suffers and most people who do take on, NFU work on top of, err farming, do, do it, as, at, at, at expense, and it is, it is difficult to juggle, and farming is a full time job anyway, and youíre right to pick-up on the paper work, the paper work is just becoming more and more, onerous, and the only way that a lot of people can actually get round that, is to employ, err, a secretary, to come-in on a, on a part time basis, which most people cannot afford in the current umm, climate, and it just, takes more and more off the, off the bottom line, off the margin

9.86.       EM: How would it be possible to reduce the paperwork

9.87.       MH: Computerisation is, is often flagged up as the answer to everything, but certainly the experiences that weíve had over the past couple of years with the, the Ministry trying to computerise, err, the IACS payment and the cattle movement systems have been an absolute farce, and they have caused, a lot more work, rather than less, I think, at the minute, because of issues such as BSE and Foot and Mouth, everyone is, sort of employing the precautionary principle, going over the top, theyíre gold-plating everything, and there are ways of reducing the, numbers of forms that we have to fill in, but, at the minute itís deemed necessary to provide that reassurance that, Government and certainly the consumers, the public, want

9.88.       EM: Which bit of paperwork takes up most of your time

9.89.       MH: Itís a, itís a continual, itís a continual, umm, itís a continual effort to have to keep up with the paperwork, whether, and Iím simple on the err cereals and the, the beef side of things, but even so, umm, the IACS form take a long time to fill in, and the, keeping up with the cattle movements err, is, is, an absolute nightmare and, you have to do so many different forms, that it, it just umm, and if you forget to do a form when they should have gone in, then you get penalties, and itís err, itís, itís just very onerous

9.90.       EM: Could you explain about the IACS form

9.91.       MH: Well the IACS form is a form that one has to fill in every year to, err, actually declare what you are growing on specific fields in err, in, for that particular harvest year, and err, which in itself, should be fairly simple to do, but the, the accuracy that one has to umm, employ to fill in these forms is just, being unrealistic really, and, if one has a check, and you are sort of zero point one of a hectare out then you get fined for it, and, to actually go out and measure all of these umm, tiny little inaccuracies err, would take a tremendous time and most people donít actually measure as, as accuarately as the, the forms would want, and certainly

9.92.       EM: Err

9.93.       MH: Sorry

9.94.       EM: Are the checks random

9.95.       MH: The, the, the check, the checks are random and, and, and they need to be there, Iím, Iím not disputing the need for the checks, what they do need to do, is to be a little bit more realistic about how, accurately you can be, umm, within, within a farm situation, and over the last year, theyíre umm, brought out the digital mapping, which is err, mapping via satellite, and it has proved that some people have been under claiming on some fields and over claiming on, on other fields, but in actual fact overall, net, there is very little difference and so people have been, sort of, you know, fairly accurate with, with what theyíre claiming, umm, but, the database that they employ to umm, to actually determine the land ownership of, of, within those digital maps has been shown to be, totally inaccurate, so itís actually the computer database which is err causing most problems for that rather than the accuracy of the maps

9.96.       EM: And IACS stands for

9.97.       MH: Integrated, do you want

9.98.       EM: Integrated

9.99.       MH: Do you want me to get it

9.100.  EM: Err, itíd be good to know

9.101.  MH: Yeah

9.102.  EM: Eventually, because although Iíve come across it a lot I actually donít know what it stands for, ha, ha, ha

9.103.  MH: I donít know

9.104.  MH: Now IACS stands for, the Integrated Administration and Control System, and itís, itís specifically for arable, arable payments

9.105.  EM: Oh right, so if, for, for livestock you donít

9.106.  MH: Well no, yes, actually, the, the, I, the, the IACS system is, is based on, on the, on land base, but umm, livestock comes into it, because livestock has forage areas, which err, you, you also message on, on land as well, so, the forage comes into the IACS system as well

9.107.  EM: Umm, again, Iím going to ask you later more about it but just as itís relevant now, how do, does the paperwork in Britain compare to your experiences in France

9.108.  MH: I think the, the paper work is much the same, here and, and, and in France, the difference is, in the attitude of the people to actually filling out the forms, but also, I suppose over here, given that we do gold plate a lot of the legislation, that gold plating itself does actually produce slightly more paperwork, but, hmm, in France theyíve always been a fairly bureaucratic umm, administrative, society, and so from filling is just part of, of the culture, and, certainly when the IACS forms came out in 1992, over here, in UK, there was sort of, umm, great dismay and consternation about how on earth we were going to fill in all these forms, in France theyíre, to begin with they were exactly the same forms and they just took it in there stride as just another form to fill in, and it also goes back to what I was saying earlier, that in France, there are people there, to help, based on the Government umm, Government personnel, who are there to help, actually fill out the forms, rather than here, weíre left to do it on our own

9.109.  EM: And do you know about other countries, how, how, how it compares to Germany for instance

9.110.  MH: Germany likewise, hmm, they are a fairly, umm, efficient and, and bureauracratic?? umm, system, as, as well, but the forms are much the same, but they just get on and do it, and umm

9.111.  EM: But not, are you saying not with the same attention to detail

9.112.  MH: No, they do it with the same attention to detail, but I think that given that we have more gold plating over here we do actually have more forms to fill in, umm, but likewise, in Germany they do have help, from Government personnel, or regional personnel in, in Germanyís case to, to fill them in

9.113.  EM: Do you get any advice on your growing and rearing techniques or is it all, from your own research

9.114.  MH: The advice that we get, I employee umm, an agronomist, who umm, comes round and advises on, the spraying, and err, we talk together about the actual umm, varieties, and, and, umm, sorts of err crop to grow, but apart from that, no, I, I do it, very much on my own, rather then have any, any other advisor in

9.115.  EM: And would that just be a few days a year

9.116.  MH: He comes, he walks round regularly, during the growing season of the crop, so umm, certainly from November through until, June time, fairly regularly on a fortnightly basis I guess

9.117.  EM: Is that an expense that most farmers do, can afford

9.118.  MH: I think in general employing a specialist advisor for, for growing things like cereal crops is something that, possibly only fifty per cent of cereal farmers do actually use, the, the other fifty percent, who donít use it, say that they canít afford it, but I would actually maintain that by employing that specialist advice you do, umm, gain a net benefit from it, and so in reality they can afford it, but umm, a lot of people just donít like taking advice full-stop

9.119.  EM: And they do tend to know more than you, I mean, itís not that theyíre only sort of, academic about it

9.120.  MH: No, I think the, with the, the agronomist itís, itís not just academic itís not just research it is applied umm, science and itís, itís applied experience as well, because invariably agronomists, umm, walk over perhaps several thousand acres, whereas, I can only walk over my three hundred and eighty odd acres of corn, and so they bring that collective experience to, to your farm, and umm, they being specialists are able much more to keep up with the latest developments in chemicals, umm, sprays and what have we, which, are developing very rapidly

9.121.  EM: And back to sort of the contact things, are there, are there like Farmers Weekly, do you listen to err Farmers, Farming Today

9.122.  MH: No I donít err, listen, I mean I listen if it happens to be on but I donít make a, umm, specific effort to listen to err, radio programmes, because invariably, Iím sort of, either not around, or, or umm, on a fairly irregular basis, so if itís on, then I will obviously listen to it, but umm, not as a regular, regular issue

9.123.  EM: What about the Archers

9.124.  MH: The Archer, Iíve been bought up on the Archers for err, from day one, and err, yes we still, we still listen to it regularly, ha, ha

9.125.  EM: And have you ever, gleaned any farming advice from it

9.126.  MH: No, I think certainly, certainly over the last few years as well, I mean the farming content of the Archers has, err, diminished to such an extent that it is now pretty well irrelevant

9.127.  EM: Umm, and back to the NFU, do you feel that itís, it rep, it adequately represents farmers

9.128.  MH: Representation of umm, farmers through the NFU, is a, is a very difficult question to address, it always has been because the NFU has been a national organisation which has tried to represent all scales of farming, all sectors of farming, and given the, the err, diversity of farming that is a very difficult job to do, it has become even more so, recently, as farming has itself become more polarised, you get more larger farmers and the smaller farmers are diversifying away from farming just to survive, and so the actual, population that is within the NFU has, err, diversified to such an extent that it is becoming very difficult to represent all, or, the other, the other way of looking at it is that, yes the NFU does represent all of those people, but necessarily it has to fudge the issues and end up with a sort of, a compromise statement, which everyone is happy to live by, so there is a danger, that being all things to all men does lead to err, a relative lack of effectiveness, however I still maintain, that, there is, within the NFU, the structure, err, both information and democratic structure, which does allow anyone who is a member of the NFU, to their specific points of view, err, specific queries, and actually have access to specific bits of information which is relevant to them, perhaps itís just not always, umm, explained to them well enough, where they can get it from

9.129.  EM: And do you feel that umm, either Tory or Labour Governments, do you feel one or other is more sympathetic and has a greater understanding of farming issues

9.130.  MH: Traditionally we always assumed that umm, Tory MPs have had a more sympathetic umm, understanding of farming, umm, paradoxically of course farming is, invariably done better under Labour Governments then Tory Governments, but I think at the minute, umm, the Tories and the Labour Party are just so similar that itís pretty well irrelevant whoís in power, itís more down to personalities, and whether that person actually shows an interest in his constituency and the umm, actual sectors of that constituency, the other issue, as far as, umm, Members of Parliament are concerned is the err, Members of the European Parliament, and certainly in this area weíre very lucky with James Ellis as, as our err, Member of the European Parliament, who is umm, particularly interested in farming issues, and umm, it has been a tremendous help, to us, to actually umm, you know, take on board his enthusiasm and, and so itís down to personalities again, umm, and we get a lot, as a farming industry we get a lot back from that relationship

9.131.  EM: Umm, this is a question I might have asked at the beginning actually, maybe you could, describe your farm to someone whoís never seen it, both visually and content of the soil

9.132.  MH: Okay, well the I mean, the farm is, is quite unusual in that itís all in one block, itís four, about four hundred and fifty acres, itís bordered on two sides by umm, one by the motorway, the M40 and the other by the A34, which is dual carriageway, so itís not a quiet farm, as far as traffic is concerned, itís, it was before the umm, before the motorways came, quite a, quite a beautiful farm, but umm, unfortunately, that tranquillity has been spoiled, we have err, a thirteen acre wood, in, roughly in the middle of the farm, which is a, a country wildlife site, itís a very ancient woodland and umm, itís, thatís a particularly beautiful part of the, part of the farm, itís fairly flat, umm, very heavy Oxford clay, which makes, arable cultivation very difficult, and you have to be very accurate with your timing of those to actually make them work at all, umm, and we are in, we are in a very nice part of Oxfordshire, [inaudible comment]

9.133.  EM: Ha, ha, whatís the wildlife, the thirteen acre wood called

9.134.  MH: Itís Woolmouth Copse the, the actual, the actual wood is called Woolmouth Copse  umm

9.135.  EM: Is that a B Bow, BBONT site

9.136.  MH: No, itís just, they just called it, a, a, a county wildlife site, specifically there are, there are some orchids up there, and umm, some other species of plant, which err, are particularly rare apparently

9.137.  EM: And in your twenty three years on this farm, how, how have you seen the wildlife change

9.138.  MH: The wildlife hasnít actually changed an awful lot to be honest, umm, we still, weíre still inundated with lapwings, umm, and umm, all of the various smaller birds are, have, have always been here to be honest, so wildlife hasnít changed, the biggest influx that weíve had over the past few years have been badgers, which umm, are a real nuisance and deer, muntjack deer has certainly umm, increased dramatically, and we actually now have some fallow deer on the farm as well, so umm, deer have, have increased quite dramatically, could be as a result of, the roads actually effectively penning them off from, from straying further perhaps, this is, is as far as they can get and theyíve settled here, but apart from, apart from that, the wildlife is, is abundant, and always has been

9.139.  EM: You err decided to, also buy a farm in France, so could you tell me about how that came about

9.140.  MH: I bought a Farm in France really as an, as an extension of, this farm here, twelve years ago now, it was a question of trying to expand the enterprise, but err, land prices around here were prohibitively expensive, where in theory, one could get land at half the price as here, umm, and the returns should have been roughly, roughly the same, it never really quite works out like that but, that was the theory and the rational  behind it, I started looking in the northern part of France for a dairy farm, because thatís what I was doing here at the time, but the complications with, umm, tenancies, quota, and err all of these various err things, made it pretty well impossible to find a dairy farm in the northern part of France, and work it from here, itíd been okay if Iíd gone over, but, but to work it from here was difficult, so I looked further south, umm, and eventually came err, across err, a farm, which was going to be viable in itís own right, umm, and it was just a horticultural farm, on the edge of the Garon Valley between Bordeaux and Toulouse, itís err, all, the equivalent of grade one or two alluvial silt, umm, irrigated, and err, itís a very nice part of France

9.141.  EM: So are, do you feel itís been a successful venture

9.142.  MH: From a profit making perspective umm, itís been hard work, and the figures that Iíd budgeted on the beginning never really transpired, now, ten, twelve years on, I think we can say that we are on an even keel and, err, it, it, because of the way have actually cropped it down there, we are now beginning to, to make a decent return, but it certainly hasnít been, umm, a pot of gold there, thatís been milked for all itís worth, itís been hard work and Iíve sunk a lot of money into it, to, to get it where it is, today

9.143.  EM: And how often do you have to go across

9.144.  MH: I try and go, depending on the, the work that has to be done, I try and go every other month if I can, but I employ a French manager down there, who does most of the day to day work and employees the casual labour thatís down there

9.145.  EM: So is there just one full time staff there

9.146.  MH: Yeah, one full time staff and during the umm, asparagus season, from March through until beginning of June, we employ four or five, umm, people full time picking asparagus, they then come back to us in umm, August, and then November and December for tobacco picking, so we employ those people, fairly full time, for about err, five to six months of the year, for the various picking jobs

9.147.  EM: Before you did the, t, t, tobacco must be very, sort of, strange plant for you to grow, did you have any kind of ethical, consideration about it, did, did you, because you know, not, itís probably the only, thereís, thereís not, well apart from GM crops in terms of whatís perceived as ethics, itís, there arenít many things you can grow which are unethical as it were

9.148.  MH: No quite, no, I didnít, it didnít give me a second thought, to be honest, the, the ethics of growing or not growing tobacco, I think, I could leave to those who smoke it, thereís a, thereís a choice there, umm, itís, itís not an, an illegal crop to grow, itís a profitable, very profitable crop and my, soul objective as a businessman, is to make my enterprise, profitable, as far as, umm, yeah, as far as ethics are concerned, it, itís, itís one of those things that one has to umm, you have to have view points on it, but, and I, I wouldnít smoke it and I wouldnít want my children to smoke, but, that is a, that is a choice that we all have

9.149.  EM: So in err, to, your farm manager does he, do you speak French

9.150.  MH: I, yes, I speak French, not fluently, but I can get by

9.151.  EM: Did you speak French before you

9.152.  MH: No

9.153.  EM: So youíve had to learn French as well, on top of everything else

9.154.  MH: Yes, learn, learning French in that situation is quite a steep learning curve, and I think, although Iím not fluent speaking French, I can understand fluently, which is, which is quite important, umm, and most people if they want to do business with you they, tolerate a little bit of leeway on the French grammar

9.155.  EM: So with your, and your French, and your farm manager there, only speaks French

9.156.  MH: He only speaks French, yes, he doesnít speak any English at all

9.157.  EM: Does he ring-up sometimes and

9.158.  MH: Yes

9.159.  EM: You donít

9.160.  MH: He, he, he certainly rings up, although we have, we try to communicate as much as possible by fax, so that, that rules out any possibility of misunderstanding or ambiguity, but he certainly rings up and umm, now and again, we, we just have a normal, normal conversation

9.161.  EM: And have would, there been any sort of mis, cultural misunderstandings or language misunderstandings, along the way

9.162.  MH: From the business point of view, no we havenít had any actual misunderstandings, um, I think having worked with the same person, which Iím very luck to have done, for twelve years, weíve umm, gone to a relationship whereby we know what each other, is wanting to say, and we know what the farm wants and so thereís, thereís not a problem there at all, the biggest problem I did come a, across was when his wife was dying of breast cancer, to try and articulate sympathy in a language which, I struggle with, was very difficult, and that type of umm, emotional involvement, I think, is difficult at the best of times, and in a, in a, in a strange language, was a real, err a real issue for me I think

9.163.  EM: So would you recommend, having farms in Frances to, if other farmers could manage it, as an extension

9.164.  MH: Not as an extension, no, itís, itís impossible to, umm, get the best out of both units if you have a foot in both camps, I think there is a lot of case, particularly at the minute for, for farmers, young farmers trying to start off in farming, who perhaps have a limited amount of capital to take that to France, they can get a lot more for their money in France, and go into an industry and an occupation, which is actually respected, in France, rather than, over here, where, as weíve been saying, weíre, we are at best misunderstand then I think there are real opportunities at the minute for, for young people to, to actual make a go in France

9.165.  EM: Okay, Iím just going to move onto, different subject, do you feel that there is a crisis in farming, in the UK, at the moment

9.166.  MH: Crisis is a very emotive word, umm, there is a real cultural and business structural change in farming, the crises is in the personal side of farming, because, to accommodate that, the cultural and business side of the change, a lot of people are having to change their ways of life and how they look at farming and their business, totally, and that does cause a crisis, so there is a real crises, but itís for the people rather than the business, farming, since, since it began in the bronze ages has been a continual stage of evolution, the stages of evolution has obviously, have obviously sped up over the last century because of the technological advances that weíve had, and they are, they are compounding obviously, but, hmm, the fact is that, the world in general will still be feed, but by fewer people, and using more technology, so the crisis in, in, in the people side of things is, is driven by the fact that not so many people can get a living out of farming, but I wouldnít say farming itself is in crisis

9.167.  EM: And how do you feel about the rest of the world, the, agriculture in the rest of the world

9.168.  MH: The rest of the world, the rest of Europe for a start, is still bound by subsidy mentality and as such, will have itís options limited, the rest of the world such as the United States, and if you look at, Southern, South America, certainly the Carnes Group I suppose, you know, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, places like that, they, they certainly making great steps in trying to, get their systemsí production to produce profitably at world market prices, whatever they might be, but they have their own, umm, subside systems in place, and the Americans now through their defficiency payments and um, emergency aid payments are now nearly the equivalent to the EU in subsidising their farmers, itís just they call it a different thing, and of course when that comes down to umm, World Trade Organisation talks, trying to sort out fairness and equitability, equitability across, trading nations, then that just becomes a very difficult umm, equation to square, I think farming, across the whole world is, is suffering from an explosion in technology, err, being able to produce basic commodity foods, at very low prices, the thing that gets in the ways is what I was saying earlier about the personal side, the political side of the thing gets in the way, we have plenty of capacity, we have plenty of food in the world to feed everyone in the food, itís the political, err, regimes that stop it getting where it should do

9.169.  EM: What is your opinion of the World Trade Organisation

9.170.  MH: Itís look like I make excuses for them, but itís, itís an impossible task to try and come up with a concrete, clearly defined solution, it has to be there, because there has to be some way of trying to get some kind of consensus on fair trade, inevitably all contributing partners to that type of conference, that type of umm, discussion, will all come with their own agendas and their own, umm, viewpoints and perspectives, I think, in general, although it does come down to a compromise, inevitably, it has helped and I think, if we were just left to total umm, unrestricted trade, then I think there probably would be more of a mess and more, more trading companies, countries would go out, umm, go out of business effectively as, as a country, but we also have to bear in mind, from a farming perspective, hmm, we tend to think that the WTO is totally about farming but of course itís not, farming is only a very small section of the WTO talks and the, the issue is try and make it, more realistic and a more important part of them rather than just the bargaining chip that is often used for a, for a lot other countries

9.171.  EM: And you do, you read about, we, err, in terms of some products in Britain we export an equivalent, almost identical amount that we import, the great sort of food swap, do you think that exporting is the right answer, what do you feel about this, sort of exchange of, this great food swap

9.172.  MH: The issue, the issues that is, is raised is apart from self-sufficiency, is food miles, umm, and issues like that, I think to be honest, a lot of nonsense is talked about food miles and if, food could be produced and bought by a willing producer and a willing buyer, then itís regardless of, itís, itís irrelevant really of where it comes from in the world, market forces will, eventually determine sustainability and sustainable mechanisms, of, of, for, food production, I think as far as this country is concerned, exporting, will help, but we do import, umm, more than we export, and I think that is, a result, at the minute of the fact that the UK economy, is now based on a very successful service economy, and to be honest, the UK public do not need UK agriculture, they, the UK public, can buy any food they want, at any time of the year, which comes from any where in the world, and invariably, for a cheaper price than we can produce it in this country, given that, then we as farmers, as producers of that food have no god given right to accept, or expect that they will buy our products over someoneís elseís, we have to be able to different, differentiate our product, and that is what where trying to do, where trying to say that British is best because, we do this, that and the other as far as welfare standards, and methods of production are concerned, compared with cheaper imports, but we have to accept that, umm, or at the consumer has to accept that it will be more expensive, because we are doing more, to look after the animals, or, or whatever than our cheaper imports, and so itís, itís a total education exercise, we have no right to expect that they will automatically buy it just because itís British, and we have to get over the fact that, as I say, they donít actually need UK agriculture, so we have to prove, that they do

9.173.  EM: And, does that mean that you donít think local food deserves a premium because, it ought to inherently be, fresher and therefore more nutritious and not cause the same environmental damage in terms of food miles

9.174.  MH: I think, I think, local food certainly deserves, umm, supporting, but we have to tell people why it deserves to be supporting, to be supported, and, invariably, with local food and itís not a panacea for, for farming because it, it can help a few people, but again regulations have, err, tied us, tied us up in knots, as far as thatís concerned, specifically for abattoirs, we now have, virtually no local abattoirs in the South-east, which would be able to cope with locally produced food, and produce it back to the local, local community, the biggest advantage, and the biggest reason why people should, support local food is that they can actually identify with what theyíre eating, which if we are what we eat then itís quite important for people to be able to identify, exactly what theyíre eating, if they can go and visit the farm that theyíre meat was produce on, for example, then that is worth something, thatís worth something, umm, aesthetically and given that we are a service economy I think that people then would be prepared to pay, for that type, benefit, and itís, itís, it goes back to being a total education package, that we as farmers, we as producers of food, have to explain to our consumers, our customers, why we are doing various things, then this misunderstanding will start to be broken down, and they will see that it, we do actually produce food in this country to far higher standards than, for example chicken coming from Thailand, and, once you start to explain that, then there is a real reason why people should expect to pay slightly more, even though itís local food

9.175.  EM: And you mentioned the abattoirs there, do you feel that the closure of abattoirs, has been, something thatís sort of happened so quickly that it seems to have, and impacts have been so huge, seems to have, just happened without, I mean it, the, itís not a kind of household concern that, that, the local abattoirs, in the way that local food and organic food and GM have all, you know, got to the general public knowledge, but the issues of abattoirs, seems to have had such a colossal impact on production of local food, doesnít seem to have got the same kind of coverage

9.176.  MH: No it, it hasnít got the coverage because itís, itís difficult for a start to get people emotive about abattoirs, umm, that is, is a fundamental problem, people donít like to think where their meat comes from, it just arrives, doesnít it, but from the abattoirs it, it was very quick, very sudden and very draconian and, an example of Britain gold plating regulations as a knee jerk reaction to umm, disease threats but also directives that came across from, from Europe, so that, it has, itís taken everyone by surprise, and I think, err, it has had dramatic effects, people are trying to start up with mobile abattoirs, and, and issues like this, or projects like this, which are going to try and overcome some of it, but thereís no way that we will ever get back to a situation whereby local food will be, be able to produced, to any great quantity and slaughtered and, and recycled within itís own community

9.177.  EM: Has it affected you directly

9.178.  MH: No, not, not directly, umm, the, the meat that I or the finished stock that I sell, umm, gets sold through Thame and invariably go to, to abattoirs, some distance away, so, yes, theyíre, theyíre, it affects my animals but the, it doesnít affect the price that I get from my animals, there is a local abbitoir, umm, over at Whitney, which takes, umm, quite a few stock, but heís one of the few, few that are left

9.179.  EM: Have you followed your, your, your meat, your beef say from, sort of, to the plate as it were, and seen, seen itís trajectory, how, how informed are you, of really what happens to it

9.180.  MH: Yes, I have, I have in the past gone through, umm, gone through the total, umm, line and, and gone right through all umm, the abattoir and, and seen what happens to it, we have be seen Aberdeen Angus beef, specifically for Waitrose, under contract to Waitrose, and to that extent, you know, a lot more as to what is happening and it is a specific err contract, weíve actually stopped that over this last year for a number of reasons, but that kind of link does, give you a, a clear understanding of exactly what does happen, and when you go into Waitrose and see, Aberdeen Angus beef there, it could easily be one of mine, so it does give you that connection with the end, the end consumer

9.181.  EM: Can you describe, the, the trajectory from your farm to the supermarket shelves

9.182.  MH: Well, umm, yes, difficult, itís difficult to sort of know, know what you want, really

9.183.  EM: Oh, it goes from here to

9.184.  MH: Oh well yes

9.185.  EM: To Thame, and, the sort of whole, each stage

9.186.  MH: Yes, well I mean, it, itís easier to describe the, the Aberdeen Angus one, umm, which as I say were, not actually doing at the minute, but, the idea with the Aberdeen Angus scheme, for Waitrose is that, there is as little movement or stress as possible, so from the farm it goes direct to an abattoir, which is specifically designated to slaughtering animals for the  Waitrose scheme

9.187.  EM: Where is that abattoir

9.188.  MH: Thatís up at Dovecot Park, up in the Midlands, so it has a fairly long journey up, umm, to the Midlands, it is then, slaughtered and dressed out and, processed on-site, and then it goes straight in to the Waitrose chain, it then goes to the regional distribution centres and then out to the stores, which umm, are either, the Waitrose have the two schemes, they have the Aberdeen Angus or the Hertford scheme, and they effectively have one or the other in their, in their stores, so umm, for example the Witney Waitrose has Aberdeen Angus, and so the, the beef could very well come all the way back from Dovecot Park back down to fairly close to home, to be, to go back on the, on the shelf

9.189.  EM: And howís your relationship been during that

9.190.  MH: All of the supermarkets are trying to create these, quasi-producer clubs, whereby they tie producers into specifically for them, for various marketing reasons, they started off very well, and Tesco were the first ones to start off with St Mewins Meats, err they started off very well, umm, because it was a marketing edge for the supermarkets, the producers got their premium umm, they had to jump through a few more hoops umm, but it was worth doing, over the, over the period of time which has been, five, six, seven years, as more and more supermarkets get onto the band wagon the marketing benefit has obviously been less, cause now everyone has there specific, umm, targeted or sourced beef, so there is no longer the premium or the marketing premium in it for the supermarkets, the supermarkets being the people, as err, they are, obviously want to pass that lack of premium back to the suppliers, so it has become less beneficial for us as suppliers to be in this producer club, now there are various ways that supermarkets can do that, they either cut the price, which doesnít look good, or they up the standards, and it now means that, certain contracts are very difficult for smaller producers to actually produce to, for example they want so many animals finished at a certain time to make up a lorry load, and for smaller producers that just, that just isnít possible, so effectively precludes a lot of people from joining the producer club, the premium is still there although reduced, so I think relations with the supermarkets in general can be described as becoming stained

9.191.  EM: Have you felt held in a gridlock in the way that Tony Blair described

9.192.  MH: Anyone who, who produces specifically under contract to supermarkets is totally in a gridlock, yes, and I certainly know that vegetable producers umm, producing for supermarkets are totally at the mercy of, of supermarkets and if a truckload of lettuce, or whatever get to their sorting station and they, they donít like the look of it, they reject the whole lot, and thatís you know, tens of thousands of pounds worth, the same is true to a degree with the beef, as, as Iíve indicated, however, when things go right, the rewards are con, considerable as well, so, it depends who you want to do business with, if you are risk averse and are prepared to take a lower return then itís easier to sell into the low end commodity market, but if you are prepared to accept that youíre dealing with the big boys who have no scruples then, give it a try

9.193.  EM: And do you feel that supermarkets have too much power

9.194.  MH: Yes, they, they do have too much power, but, Iím not winning that their having too much power because it goes back to looking at the whole of food production as an industry and as a business, they have too much power because they have been very good at their business, and itís market lead, they are successful in the market and so by definition, they have the power, we, we canít change that, as, as it stands, and so we have to work with that power

9.195.  EM: And thereís a situation at the moment where Safewayís is trying to be, various people are bidding to, to buy Safeways, including Walmart, which owns ASDA, what do you feel about that kind of monopoly

9.196.  MH: From an monop, monopolistic point of view it is obviously bad, for the supermarkets to get even bigger than they are, however, if thatís market forces, and if the laws of the land say that the resulting firm would not constitute a monopoly or a monopoly situation, then again we are working within the law and within market forces, and so we have to work within that, the way that we have of overcoming, but at least addressing that type of power is, again to differentiate our product such that regardless of the power of the supermarkets, the consumer will want to buy our product, and itís, itís a question of farmers in general have in the past assumed too much that either the processors or the supermarkets are their consumers, are their customers, where of course it is the final consumer that is our ultimate customer, at the minute we say that the supermarkets tell the ultimate customer what they want, which is true, so we have to work with the supermarket on that, we have to work within the market economy that we have, until we become powerful enough in our own right to be able to alter it

9.197.  EM: And do you feel, in, in terms of the balance of power, do you feel that Governments or supermarkets have greater power over, farming

9.198.  MH: I think in general, both supermarkets and Government probably have err, equivalent power actually, but obviously from totally different umm, aspects, the Government from the legislative aspect, has, total power, but the supermarkets have the market, the market drag, which means that, they do effectively control what we produce, and of course I would maintain that the supermarkets, because they are so powerful, do actually control what the Government thinks as well

9.199.  EM: Okay, Iím just going to, shall we just have a

9.200.  EM: Hello, testing, testing, testing, testing, yup, okay, we just had a little pause there, umm, and weíre going to pick up, um, weíre going to pickup by asking you, Mark, what did you think about the recommendation of the Food and Farming Commission to switch from subsidising production to environmental subsidies

9.201.  MH: Encouraging the production of umm, environmental benefits is something that, that is essential, but itís, itís a question really of trying to get a, an overall policy, at, at the minute, the Government or the EU, is trying to switch from production to environmental and rural development schemes, but there is no overall policy, theyíre doing it on very much an adhoc basis, so if the EU think that, err, there is benefit in a particular scheme, they will encourage that, thereís no long term, as with all politicianís I suppose, there is no long term, vision as to how they want the countryside to look, they donít know, I mean no one knows how they want it to look, but the fact is that they are encouraging a form of production, through default, and also, through default what the countryside will look like, by this switch to environmental subsidy, but theyíve no idea what theyíre wanting at the end, so for a start they donít know what to target, and five years down, ten years down the road, they will not know whether theyíve succeeded in, in actually achieving it, so although the public perceive thatís what they want, and, I think perhaps people in the future will say that is, it has been the right thing, theyíre going into it totally blind

9.202.  EM: Okay, and have you looked into using Integrated Farm Management

9.203.  MH: Integrated Farm Management is something that I think, most sensible farmers use to a degree anyway, gone are the days in the late Ď70s, Ď80s, where, fr example in cereal farming umm, you just went out and put on four lots of spray because thatís what you always did and you hoped it produced the results, itís very much a question now, of you go out and you only put on what you act, absolutely need, because apart from anything else it costs a heck of a lot of money, so you donít want to be putting on a pennyís worth more of spray that you actually need to kill the fungus or whatever thatís on, on, the wheat crop in the first place, so to that extent, everyone, pretty well everyone now, does that anyway, as far as integrating the whole farm system, again, I think people are very aware that, err, to maximise the actual benefit from one enterprise they all have to be integrated, and so recycling of manures, and umm, naturally produced farm waste is very much a question of, it always has been integrated to a degree, but now, most serious farmers actually analyse the err, quantify the benefit that actually produces and factor that into their recommendations for all fertilisers and plant nutrients

9.204.  EM: Could you explain Integrated Farm Management to, when it came into being

9.205.  MH: Integrated Farm Management it, it, as I say, itís very much a question of formalising something that a lot of people were doing anyway, it was, I suppose, as a reaction to the umm, Ď80s, whereby a lot of people were putting on a lot of inputs, fertilisers, chemicals, umm, because they were chasing higher and higher yields, and the only, find out if you can get more yield is to bung some more fertiliser just to see if it does react, and people got into, I think, the umm, habit of just putting on more and more, because in those days, in the Ď80s, the err, price differential was err, a lot more, as far as fertiliser and err, corn prices concerned, in the Ď80s we were getting, hundred and twenty eight pounds for a ??tonne?? of wheat, whereas now itís worth fifty, fifty five, the price of fertiliser, is roughly the same, so in, in the Ď80s, you could afford to put a lot more fertiliser on and not really worry about umm, the return, the Integrated Farm Management bit of it, came about whereby, you only put on the inputs when you needed them, and you made sure that everything on the farm was, quantified as far as itís benefit to the farm, so if your talking about animal manures, you analysis it, you know how much you put on the fields and so you know how much fertiliser you can save, by analysing and quantifying that, err, fertiliser

9.206.  EM: And I thought that it used satellite technology, in some way

9.207.  MH: It can do, the, but, satellite technology is, is only of any use if youíve got a receiver to err, to use it, and itís, it is something that is of benefit but itís err, still very expensive, to get umm, satellite receivers and, and computer software to, actually benefit from that, the idea of that is, that, using satellite technology, you can look at a growing field of wheat, and, decide where, either where the disease is, or where you would benefit most from putting an amount of fertiliser, and go out with your tractor and synchronised by the satellite you can actually put the, err, apply the spray specifically to that patch of the field, you can do that, not necessarily with satellite technology just by walking your crops, err, properly, you know where the weeds are, or where the fungus is, within the crop, and you can just turn the sprayer on and off as you go through, thatís just as much Integrated Farm Management as using satellite technology, satellite technology is something that, will become more, used more as, as farms get, get bigger and, and it can be spread over a greater acreage, but it is still very expensive

9.208.  EM: Whatís your opinion of organic farming

9.209.  MH: Organic farming, again, is, is, umm, something which I think has had bad press, and suffers from misunderstand from all angles, thatís from both consumers and from farmers, and as such, itís a difficult subject to, to try and analyse, I think organic farming, as part of the agricultural industry, there will always be a place for it, err, as a niche market, there is no way, that UK agriculture will go even twenty percent, let alone, anymore, organic, there, thereís just no way that we could, umm, produce at, at that, at that kind level, and, letís face it at the minute, there just isnít the market for organic products, we have seen, for example, milk, organic milk, umm, over the past five years there, there were, incentives, Government grant based incentives, to err, convert to organic, milk, when there was a price premium, of six to nine pence a litre, thatís a premium, now, organic milk is, making a premium of between two and three pence, but the costs of production, are, between, extra costs of production are between five and seven pence a litre, so those organic producers, will be selling their milk at a loose, having produced, err, having converted to organics, so, that is a classic example, in my mind, of, grants, subsidies, incentives, call them what you will, distorting a market, umm, without any market research being done, Germany I know, are hoping for a ten percent organic umm, inclusion into their agricultural industry, they donít actually think theyíre going to get there, but they have, very much, a greener, err, a more organic aware consumer, basically in this country, apart from the niche market Iíve mentioned, most people are not prepared to pay the premium for organic produce, there isnít the market there

9.210.  EM: Do you feel that subsidies should be higher for organic

9.211.  MH: No

9.212.  EM: Farmers

9.213.  MH: No, purely going back to the milk scenario, it distorts the market totally, and I think, if there is a market there, then with the existing, err, incentives, and existing market forces, organic farmers should be able to make money, whether thatís through the niche, or through umm, more regularised processing, then there should be that market there, there is no need for increased market distortion of our subsidy

9.214.  EM: And do you feel, that it is kinder, organic, letís say arable organic farming, [cough], sorry, do you feel that arable organic farming is kinder to the environment

9.215.  MH: No, personally I think, err, I mean this is a personal view, but I think organic farming is totally unsustainable, I, Iíve no figures to, to back that up, but if you just look at the number of cultivations that an organic farmer has to do to his arable crop, to, umm, to carry out, not only the planting, but also the weeding mechanically, the amount of fuel that is used, to do those cultivations, far, in my opinion, umm, far exceeds, the umm, the, the determent, of using sprays or whatever to do that job for you

9.216.  EM: Could you explain that in more detail

9.217.  MH: As I say, I canít actually quantify, I canít quantify the err, err the figures, but with an organic, with an organic system of, of, production for growing for example wheat, you use, a lot more fossil fuel burnt in tractors to carry out the cultivations because you have make sure the seed bed is, much finer, so that not so many weeds grow, after the plant is actually growing, you go through several times with mechanical weeders, to take out the weeds that, that do grow, umm, and each time you pass through that, youíre not only compacting the soil, umm, which is detriment, certainly to my type of soil, but your obviously using diesel to, in the tractor, where as with the, umm, conventional farming, you can get away with, if I put it like that, just, just a, fairly rough pass to establish the crop, umm, so the fuel used to establish the crop is much less and thereafter, err, you use sprays, umm, instead of the mechanical cultivations, and you have to, go through the crop a lot fewer times, and using a lot less diesel for spraying than you would for mechanical weeding, purely from that point of view, if you look at an energy, energy balance equation, I would imagine that organic farming uses more energy to produce the same amount of crop at the end, given, as you do, organic production can produce, thirty to fifty per cent less yield at the end of the day

9.218.  EM: And are you concerned about the use of pesticides on non-organic vegetables

9.219.  MH: Not if itís, it, two provisos of that, are A, sound science, that the, umm, pesticides have been properly tested, and proven that they do not cause any, err, residual effect in the food, providing that is, proven then I have no, err, worries about that, the other proviso of course is that they are put on and applied properly, and for that, I think there is, there is a case for more training, and more strict regulations in the actual application of these sprays, which is coming

9.220.  EM: So if you were buying food, letís say for your own family, what would you pay a premium for, would you pay more of a premium for local, more of a premium for organic

9.221.  MH: Personally, I would go for A, value for money, but I would go for flavour, rather than, method of production to be honest, I think, invariably, I would go for something like, free-range, as opposed to intensively grown, partly perhaps because of the ethics behind the intensive farming, but also the fact that the free range would have more flavour, generally, so I would go for that, rather than, worrying about sprays, pesticides, or, or specific welfare issues

9.222.  EM: And what do you think about GM

9.223.  MH: GM I think is, is, an essential part of the arm agriculture is going to need for, for the future, again I have a proviso that it has to be based on sound science, umm, and providing that, I think, I can see absolutely no question of, of, restricting it more than with any other, technological advance in, in plant breeding, when you actually get on to animal breeding with GM, then I have slightly more concern and I think that is a totally dis, different issue, when youíre talking about artificial insemination advances where your sexed semen, that again is something which, should be perfectly accept, acceptable from an ethical point of view, but you are starting to mess around with, umm, gene populations, to a degree that, this starts to cause me concern, as far as plants are concerned, as I say, I think umm, there should, provided itís based on sound science and not sloppy science, there shouldnít be any, any question about, having it

9.224.  EM: Would you have been happy to grow GM crops on your land

9.225.  MH: I did actually offer my farm up as a, as a site, but it wasnít taken as it was too close to the roads

9.226.  EM: One of the things that they, that the, the anti-GM lobby is concerned about is, not, farmers often say cross breeding has been happening for years, but is, in this case, your using sometimes animal genes, or fish genes, in, which is a, a different kind of cross breeding

9.227.  MH: It is certainly different to traditional plant or animal breeding, though, there, thereís no doubt about it, it is a new technology, but I think provided that it is used, umm, properly, and monitored and, and regulated properly, there shouldnít be any, any problems with that, I donít see any problems with it at all, it is, umm, genetic engineering is actually manipulating the genes within the plants, but I donít see a problem with that, in plants, animals are different

9.228.  EM: Last question on GM, what, what do you feel about this issue, of these controlled farm scale trials, so called controlled, where it is impossible to control what the insects will, how the insets will cross fertilise

9.229.  MH: Itís, I, I think, I assume that the, umm, the controlled sites have been set up, based on scientific rational through risk assessment, through statistically umm, statistically significant analysis and such like, so I can only assume, that they are, set up on that basis, in reality of course, of course pollen can travel miles, umm, but also, with the whole GM issue, we have to bear in mind, that most of the food, in most of the UK has some GM crops in it somewhere, umm, because of the fact that, the United States have, had GM soya in particular for so long, it is now, pretty well through out the world anyway

9.230.  EM: Iíve got two final questions, one is, do you think of your business as successful

9.231.  MH: The business, the business at the minute is going through err, a change, it is recently not been profitable, but I consider that I am now successfully moving from a position of non-profit into a profitable situation, but to do that, Iím having to move away from core farming activities

9.232.  EM: So doing actually non-farming activities

9.233.  MH: Yes, yup

9.234.  EM: And do you, does that seem like a sacrifice to you

9.235.  MH: Itís something that I donít enjoy doing, I would much rather be farming as I was before, but I have to, first and foremost, Iím running a business, and the business has to provide me with a living, for myself and my family, and to do that, Iím prepared to take business decisions, and umm, make sure that, it is profitable, even though that involves doing umm, things which are outside farming

9.236.  EM: So how have you diversified

9.237.  MH: Iíve diversified by using some of the buildings for err letting out to people, to, for either storage or umm, running small businesses from, umm

9.238.  EM: Sorry can I just stop you

9.239.  MH: Iíve also

9.240.  EM: Have you found thereís a demand in these kind of, to extent, remoter areas, for local businesses in your farm buildings

9.241.  MH: There is a demand, itís a fairly specialist demand because obviously people have to travel err, quite some distance to get to me, the, the benefit I have here is that Iím right on the junction of the motorways, and so from a logistics point of view we are very well placed, but, in general there are a lot of farmers doing the same sort of thing now and, we can see, as you go around farms, that, the market for particular offices on farms is becoming tighter, because there are just so many around, and it is becoming, a real market place for those types of offices and the better ones nearer towns or nearer umm, route, routes of transport go for higher premiums than those in remoter distances

9.242.  EM: My final question, is, do you feel, do you consider yourself a custodian of the land

9.243.  MH: Yes, we always have been, the farm, farming, has created the landscape, for generations, so, it always has been a custodian of the, the landscape, and it, it will always be, itís just that now, we are being given a label and the trouble is that people are wanting to attach a price, to that label and so it is becoming more of err, a, err, def, definition rather than just something that always, always done, and it probably comes form the fact that in the Ď70s and Ď80s when there was a lot of intensive, umm, agriculture practiced in perhaps not, very sensible way, it was very obvious to people that, the custodians of the countryside probably werenít doing a very good job, but we are certainly custodians of the countryside

9.244.  EM: Thank you very much, thatís the end of my interview with Mark Howard, thank-you very much indeed

9.245.  MH: Well, I donít know, it was a bit waffly, was it, but it sort of

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