landlines

I SUPPOSE it’s part of the job for NFU headquarters staff, but it amuses me every year about this time when they think it necessary to remind farmers that May 15 is the deadline for their annual subsidy application.

When a large slice of income for most farms depends on that single annual payment, it’s hard to believe any farmer would forget, or leave it to the last minute.

But such is the case. Late applications incur penalties and, worst case, could mean no subsidy payment at all, but they still happen. Inaccurate applications can also incur penalties or mean no payment.

As the NFU pointed out in its reminder last week, the onus is on the applicant to get the Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS) single application form in on time and for all details to be accurate.

On that depends almost every type of subsidy payment, including the single annual farm payment, the Scottish beef scheme, land managers’ options, rural development contracts and less favoured area scheme payments.

Without some, or all, of these payments many farms would not be viable and May 15 is only five days away.

Another reminder to farmers has been issued, possibly more necessary, concerning sheep scab. The Sheep Scab (Scotland) Order 2010 is now operative and animal health authorities can act on suspicion that scab, a distressing, debilitating condition, is present in a flock.

The message to farmers and their staff is: “Suspect sheep scab? Report it.” I guess they mean on other farms as much as, probably more than, their own.

Advanced stages of the disease, spread by mites, are easy enough to spot. They include wool loss, damaged moist red skin and dry crusty scabs with moist red borders.

Earlier-stage symptoms include mild to excessive rubbing and scratching, mild to excessive nibbling and biting at themselves, dirty areas of fleece caused by rubbing and scratching, especially with the hind feet behind the shoulder, sensitivity to touch, and wool in mouth due to biting themselves.

As has been pointed out many times, sheep scab is a thoroughly unpleasant, nasty infection that makes life a misery for infected animals and farmers should have tried much harder than they have to eradicate it. Here’s another chance.

There is a slang expression, probably American, that describes something of little value as “small potatoes”. I was surprised not to see it in at least one newspaper headline last week when a Sainsbury’s supermarket buyer was found guilty of taking bribes worth almost £5million for giving his company’s multi-million pound potato contract to Greenvale between 2006 and 2008.

The headline would, of course, have been along the lines of “not small potatoes” as the man taking the bribes received cash in envelopes as well as luxury hotel stays and holidays.

Human venality is no surprise, but what the prosecutor described as “corruption on a massive scale” is.

How many shoppers choosing a kilo or two of Maris Piper or even Jersey Royals at their local supermarket would imagine that competition among suppliers to put them there is so intense as to be worth millions of pounds to a supplier?

Not me, and I thought I had a reasonable understanding of how much supermarket trade is worth and which are the most valuable commodities. But £5million in bribes to get your product on to the shelves?

Amazing – until we realise that the Sainsbury’s potato contract alone was worth about £40million, indicating how much power a supermarket buyer of even a basic commodity has.

It was emphasised at the trial that he was a rogue buyer and that Sainsbury management had no knowledge of the arrangement. In fact, the corruption was self-financing, paid for from the extra Greenvale got above other suppliers who would have met the contract for less.

It would be interesting to know if the potato growers supplying Greenvale 2006 to 2008 benefited from the contract with Sainsbury. But I suspect we already know the answer to that.

Good news indeed in these troubled times. Recent statistics from the European Commission show that EU farmers’ income increased on average by 3.7 per cent last year, after a 10 per cent rise in 2010. Production was up 1.4 per cent and prices up on average 5.7 per cent.

Cereal prices rose 18.3 per cent and oilseeds 15.1 per cent. Milk rose 9.2 per cent, poultry 8.5 per cent, cattle 8 per cent, sheep 5.2 per cent and pigs 4.4 per cent.

But it was “a horrible year” for fruit and vegetables, down almost 10 per cent, because of variable weather and the E coli outbreak. Egg prices, on average, were down 4.4 per cent.

And, as many dairy farmers, told within the past week or two of reductions in the milk price, know what happens one year doesn’t necessarily continue to the next.

The same goes for the weather as the wait goes on for spring to arrive.