PRIME MINISTER, Tony Blair, went halfway towards committing the government to a U-turn on offering more aid to hard-pressed farmers, this week in 2000, and for good measure, threw in a further £100m per year concession by dumping a proposed pesticides tax.

His overall uncompromising message to the English National Farmers’ Union annual conference, this week 10 years ago, was that there was no quick fix to the industry’s ills, particularly on the damage caused by the strong pound and it would have to change to meet new challenges.

This was tempered by an assurance that Britain still needed a strong, thriving agriculture industry. “The countryside without farming is a contradiction in terms,” he said in 2000. “More than any other activity, farming defines the special character of our countryside and the unique fabric of our rural life.”

What was needed was to build a new partnership similar to, but with different aims from, that created in the 1940s. This would enable it to meet the demands of globalisation, of consumers, of the environment and new technology.

“If the NFU agrees, part of the partnership should be to develop IT-based services to farming, including an internet-based facility to give farmers access to up-to-the-minute research to benefit them directly in production and marketing decisions,” he said.

There were huge opportunities for farming in the knowledge-based economy, he said. While it might not be seen as particularly relevant to farmers struggling from day to day, he said in 2000, it was the new world.


10 years ago

• A milk price war in Scotland resulted in a probe into the selling practices of the leading players. As TSF went to press there was growing speculation that the Office of Fair Trading was set to refer the battle to the Competition Commission. It was no secret that since the foray into Scotland by Hull-based Express Dairies following its acquisition of a 51% stake in the Nairn-based Claymore Dairies, Express and Scotland’s dominant milk processor, Robert Wideman Dairies, had become embroiled in a price war.

• There were plenty of bargains to be had at the largest ever one-day sale of Bluefaced Leicester females at Castle Douglas, for the Craigskean reduction and Fourmerkland dispersal sales. Top price was £500 paid for a one-crop show ewe from Dennis Rankine, who was dispersing his Fopurmerkland flock, from Beeswing, to allow him to spend more time on a farm management course.

• More than 150 spectators turned up to support the North of Scotland Blonde d’Aquitane Club’s show at Thainstone, where the overall championship was awarded to a three-year-old bull from organic breeder, Vic Hunter, who owned the Daviot herd.


25 years ago

• Scottish Milk Marketing Board chairman Andrew Howie faced his own milk quota worries. The regulations at the time insisting that quotas attach to the land meant that Mr Howie could see his quota slashed if he lost the tenancy of a rented farm which he had on a 364-day lease. The problem faced by the industry was the split view – one school of thought being that quotas should remain firmly attached to the land to prevent them being bought up, while the other view was that such a system would fossilise the industry.

• A raffle for 18 acres of farm-land near Carlisle, valued at £28,000, was won by retired hospital charge nurse Ian Kirkwood, Torwood, Larbert, Stirlingshire. Slaughterhouse owner Frank Jackson, Penrith, Cumbria, raffled the land selling nearly 5000 tickets at a fiver, but after meeting considerable expenses, gave £1000 to cancer research.

• Seed potatoes sold to a top of £195 per tonne at the second sale of the season at Aberdeen. The top price was paid by SG Mair and Son, Kinnermit, Turriff, for a lot of five tonnes of Record VTSC 2, from I Cruickshank, Logie Newton, Huntly.


50 years ago

• A price of £6400, equivalent to more than £237 per acre was realised at Lockerbie, for the agricultural and residential property of Linnhead, Tundergarth. Extending to 27 acres on the Lockerbie-Langholm road, the land was practically all good grazing and there was also a couple of acres with timber and a stretch of fishing in the River Milk. Bidding commenced at £4000 and the property was sold to Mr AK M’Tavish, Clydesdale Bank, Lockerbie, on behalf of David Paterson, Paddockhole, Lockerbie.

• Crofters threatened to quit and take to North America following an application made by the Secretary of State for Scotland on behalf of the Forestry Commission for the resumption of afforestation of 258.8 acres of common grazing land in Inverness-shire, on this week 50 years ago. The land in question is at the crofting township of Galmore in Lochaber, where 11 crofters work a ‘club’ farm of 7,600 acres.


100 years ago

• Nearly 100 students, including quite a number of ladies, from the Glasgow and West of Scotland College of Agriculture, visited the great manure works at Port-Dundas on this week 100 years ago. The party, led by Professor Berry, was shown around the various parts of the plant and at the end of the tour the students gave cheers of thanks to the gentlemen who had shown them around the various departments.

• Figures from the Board of Trade returns showed the average value per head of the sheep imported in the previous year as £1 11s 9 1/2d, as compared with £1 11s 1d in 1908. It was noted that the extreme smallness of the supply of imported sheep kept the prices from falling.