From: Rupert Burr, Swindon, Wilts

Re: Touching the surface
Date: 29 October 2001

SIR - Margaret Beckett talks of working in partnership with the farming community to achieve a 14 per cent reduction in ammonia emissions by 2010. She must be well pleased with herself for reaching her target some nine years in advance - or has no one told her that her department has successfully removed something close to that percentage of animals during the foot and mouth crisis?

Mick Moor, Matlock, Derbys

Re: Touching the surface Date:

SIR - I am amazed at the ignorance of the agriculture industry displayed by Margaret Beckett (letter, Oct 26).

She suggests that farmers should plough in manure, rather than simply spreading it, as this reduces emissions of ammonia. It may surprise her to learn that ploughing is an activity mainly associated with arable crops grown in the flatter, drier areas of the country, whereas livestock are usually kept in the wetter, hillier areas, which are not so easy to cultivate. The landscape of the Peak District is largely a result of the attention of grazing animals. Most pastures are permanent. Experience tells ploughmen that the smaller the field, the more stone he will turn up, and stone-clearing is an activity with little to commend it. Unfortunately, cattle lift their tails several times a day, producing unimaginable quantities of manure every winter. Most farms do not have sufficient land under the plough to dispose of one winter's manure in the manner suggested by the minister.

Dare I suggest that more ammonia is emitted by the large agri-businesses favoured by Lord Whitty than by smaller family farms, particularly those which have opted for an organic system of production? Perhaps attention should first be paid to the artificial fertiliser industry, or is the Government wary of upsetting large chemical companies?

Agriculture is a very complex industry, and any minister who thinks she can tackle any one of its problems in isolation is extremely naive.