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Motoring news

Audi’s new Q cars

April 12 2017

Another week, another new Audi. Two new Audis, in fact. The German car maker has announced a couple more additions to its Q line up of SUVs. The Q4 is a coupe-SUV hybrid that will go up against the BMW X4 and Mercedes GLC Coupe. As its name suggests, it’ll be positioned between the compact Q3 and bigger Q5. At the other end of the scale is the Q8, which will go head to head against the Range Rover. It’s lower and sleeker than the Q7 Audi is also producing. In concept form, it sat only four people, although it seems likely the production version will be a five seater. There’s a 630 litre boot as well. Eagle eyed Audi followers will notice the only SUV slots left to fill are the Q1 and Q6. Watch this space...

Farming news

Farmers abandoning beef efficiency plan

June 3 2017

Hundreds of cattle farmers who committed to the Scottish Government’s Beef Efficiency Scheme (BES) have now opted out. The despised herd improvement scheme, which initially promised a budget of £45million when it was announced in 2014, struggled to attract producers to sign up in the first place, but a year down the line the talk around ringsides is that beef farmers have withdrawn or are about to withdraw their support on a large scale. The Government has confirmed that of the 2,114 farmers who agreed to take part, 335 have already formally dropped out. The disillusionment has come as a result of problems with administration, misinformation and frustration over the delivery of obligatory tissue tags for calves which has made complying with the rules almost impossible for farmers. NFU Scotland’s (NFUS) livestock committee chairman Charlie Adam says the full extend of the industry drop-out is still unknown. “We know it’s happening because we’re told people aren’t ticking the appropriate box on the Single Application Form,” he said. “And anecdotally we hear a lot of people have had enough and are getting out.” High profile farmers such as Douglas Stewart, the host of next week’s flagship Scottish Beef Event in the Borders, have condemned the scheme as a fluffy “load of rubbish” and Mr Adam revealed that if he did not hold his union position he too would be questioning whether he would continue to take part. “I probably would come out if I wasn’t doing this job,” he admitted. Farmers can drop out without penalty if they do so before the first payments of £96 per calf are made.  These were scheduled to be paid last month but the latest indication is that they will be delayed until the autumn. Mr Adam was keen to assure farmers still committed to the scheme that NFUS would continue to press for improvements and better communication from the Scottish Government. “There are still people signed up so we need to make it workable for them,” he added. “The scheme has been poorly administered, but future support may came in forms like this so we can’t just shove it in the bin. But if something like this is done in future it has to be done better. Government has to listen to the industry about practicalities.” The last straw for many farmers came when multiple batches of tissue tags arrived at different times of the year for different animals in the same batch of calves. The Scottish Government has now said in future it will only make one selection of animals for tissue sampling per-business per year. Mr Adam said that was a “positive change” which had taken industry concerns on board.  

Farming news

SNP handling of new beef scheme attacked

November 10 2016

The Scottish Government's own efficiency has been called into question over the handling of the new £45million Beef Efficiency Scheme (BES). An estimated 180,000 beef cows from 2000 Scottish farmers have been enrolled in the new five-year  scheme which aims to improve the efficiency and quality of the beef herd and help producers increase the genetic value of their stock. But months after signing up for the scheme, farmers are still waiting to be supplied with special tags to meet the rules which call for 'tissue tagging' of 20% of cattle. And now NFU Scotland's livestock chairman Charlie Adam says farmers' confidence in the scheme is being affected and has called for the rules to be adjusted. The union has also urged the Scottish Government to update all scheme applicants on progress with BES and let them know when the necessary tags will arrive. “If tag delays cannot be resolved in the immediate future, then the Scottish Government should recognise the problem and make the tissue tagging element voluntary for 2016. This will allow those who can take samples from the animals that they still own to do so,"  said Mr Adam. “Applicants to this important scheme, worth £45 million to the industry, have every right to know now, and in detail, what they are expected to do to fulfil their BES obligations and Scottish Government must get back on the front foot in delivering the scheme.” Mr Adam added that it was frustrating for the farmers who have already housed and handled their cattle for the winter as many of those animals were by now located in overwintering accommodation that can be some distance from home farms. Shadow Rural Economy secretary, Peter Chapman MSP claimed it was impossible for farmers to sell store cattle in the autumn sales until they were told which animals need tagged and were sent  the tags to do the job. He added: "This will create huge cash flow and logistic problems for farmers who normally sell calves at this time – this is the SNP letting farmers down yet again.” A Scottish Government spokesman said work was under way to rectify the problem and a timetable was expected by the end of the week. He added: "It is not necessary for farmers to hold off from selling their animals. "We will ensure that the sampling regime accommodates those farmers who have sold their calves and there will be no penalties for those whoo have. It may mean that some farmers will have a higher rate of sampling next year." nnicolson@thecourier.co.uk      

This student took his Tinder profile to the next level by turning it into a PowerPoint presentation

February 21 2018

Standing out from the crowd on Tinder can be tough, but with the help of Microsoft PowerPoint a British student has managed just that – and gone viral in the process.Sam Dixey, a 21-year-old studying at Leeds University, made a six-part slideshow entitled “Why you should swipe right” – using pictures and bullet points to shrewdly persuade potential dates to match with him on the dating app. The slideshow includes discussion of his social life and likes, such as “petting doggos” and “laser tag”, and “other notable qualities and skills” – such as being “not the worst at sex” and “generous when drunk”.It even has reviews mocked up from sources such as “Donald Trump”, “Leonardo Di Capri Sun” and “The Times Guide to Pancakes 2011”.Sam told the Press Association the six-slide presentation only took about 20 minutes to make and “started off as a joke”.However, since being posted to Twitter by fellow Tinder user Gracie Barrow, Sam’s slideshow has been shared tens of thousands of times across social media.So, it’s got the seal of approval form Gracie, but how has the slideshow fared on Tinder? “I’d have to say it has been pretty successful,” Sam said. “Definitely a clear correlation of matches and dates beforehand to afterwards.“Most of the responses tend to revolve around people saying ‘I couldn’t help swipe right 10/10’ but I’ve had some people go the extra mile and message me on Facebook.“Plus some people have recognised me outside, in the library and on dates.”A resounding success.

Farming news

New homes plan may open doors for farmers

November 23 2017

The Chancellor’s plans to facilitate the building of 300,000 new homes by the mid-2020s have been welcomed by specialist rural insurer NFU Mutual which said they could lead to opportunities for farmers. The company’s rural affairs spokesman, Tim Price said that in some locations farmers could sell land for building to raise funds for investment elsewhere on their land – or to diversify and provide a sustainable future for their farms. Mr Price added that there was huge relief that the Chancellor avoided increases in duty on petrol and diesel. “Those running small farms and rural businesses will heave a sigh of relief that they won‘t be faced with expensive accounting admin as the Chancellor has decided to keep the threshold for VAT registration at the current £85,000,” he said. “There was good news for self-employed farmers and all those working as employees that the Chancellor has stuck to the Tory’s promise to keep increasing personal tax allowances." He added that NFU Mutual had campaigned hard for the Chancellor to drop plans to increase the rate of Insurance Premium Tax (IPT). “We’re delighted that he decided not to further add to the costs of responsible businesses by leaving the tax at its current rate of 12%. NFU Mutual believes further increases in IPT would have placed an unfair burden on country people who have no option but to use cars to get around.” North of the border, NFU Scotland (NFUS) took a more negative view and chief executive Scott Walker said the union was disappointed with a budget which would “do little to excite and energise farmers, crofters, the agri-food sector or the rural economy”. “Today’s budget statement could have been a good opportunity for the UK Government to underline its commitment to UK and Scottish food producers by taking up recommendations made by NFUS and the other UK unions on measures that would help farm businesses to build resilience and deal with volatility at what is a pivotal moment of great uncertainty,” he said. “Positive announcements today were few and far between but cancellation of planned fuel duty rises for petrol and diesel vehicles is welcome. As is the extension of the rural fuel duty rebate scheme for the Scottish islands to 2023.” nnicolson@thecourier.co.uk


NFUS calls for 2013 to be CAP reference year

April 1 2014

NFU Scotland has made a clear call for the allocation of entitlements to the new Basic Payments Scheme (BPS) to be limited to the farmed area claimed last year. This key demand is made as part of NFU’s response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the new CAP, and is entirely consistent with the body’s ambition to see only active farming rewarded. With the Scottish CAP budget reduced by 20% the need to target remaining funds is paramount, according to NFUS president Nigel Miller. He told a press conference in Edinburgh yesterday that arable farmers were set to lose 27% of their payments, and other sectors might yet fare worse. Using 2013 as a historical reference year would be very significant in that it would curtail the potential for owners of land to make sure it was under their direct control in 2015 so that they would be able to claim on the maximum number of hectares. If this was allowed to happen it could bring in a vast area of poor quality land, previously referred to as “naked acres” which were excluded from the current Single Farm Payment scheme. Bringing in an extra one million hectares or more of agriculturally inactive land in the north and the west of the country would dilute the payment pot considerably, but would also create a new type of ‘slipper farmer’. Mr Miller warned: “If this is allowed to happen, every farmer in Scotland will have to pay the price for this new land coming in.” However, NFUS has another worry. If landowners were to attempt to maximise the area under their control on May 15 next year it would make annual grass lets very scarce. It would also affect the availability of high-value potato and vegetable land available to rent on an annual basis. Mr Miller believed that the Acts and Articles of the new CAP allowed the Scottish Government to restrict claims to the 2013 area, but acknowledged that an appeal process would need to be put in place to avoid discriminating against those who had genuinely expanded their farming operations. An ongoing national reserve of entitlements at about 3% of the total would be needed to cover such eventualities, and to make sure new entrants were not excluded. The national reserve could be topped up by enacting a ‘siphon’ on sales of entitlements without land and this should, according to Mr Miller, be applied at the maximum allowable rate of 40%. This should encourage retiring farmers to leave their entitlements with the farm. There was a great deal more in the NFUS response. It runs to 38 pages and contains 270 recommendations, some of which will chime with Government thinking while others will not. There will certainly be some relief among officials over the NFUS’s concession, however reluctantly made, that the country should be split into only two payment regions. One would include arable, temporary grass and permanent grass, with the other including all types of rough grazing. The country has around 2.8m hectares in this last category, and it is this area that NFUS hankers after splitting into more regions to differentiate between actively farmed land and under-utilised or abandoned land. The NFUS submission adds: “Our commitment to the two-region approach is on the explicit condition that more targeting can and will be achieved through other mechanisms such as voluntary coupled support in the beef sector, differentiated payments in the rough grazing area through further coupled support, and robust activity requirements.” The extra VCS beyond the 8% of the budget committed to the beef scheme can only come from the mooted additional 5% to support the sheep sector. Mr Miller said he was “incredibly frustrated” that the Scottish Government had yet to receive confirmation from the EU and Defra that it could use funds in this way. The target would be for support at around 30 euros per ewe. “To get to that target we need that extra headroom,” he said, adding that he hoped to meet Defra Secretary Owen Paterson in the next few days to expedite the matter. There was also much talk about the use of what has become known as the ‘Scotch Tunnel’. Essentially, this prolongs the process of moving from the present historic-based payments to area-based payments. It is seen as a way of lessening the effects of redistribution of funds, especially from farms with high levels of production from relatively small areas of land, but it involves a deal of complexity. NFUS chief executive Scott Walker admitted that there was another redistributive mechanism which would involve up to 60% higher payments being made on the first 54 hectares of any claim. “But the tunnel is by far our preferred approach,” he said.

Farming news

Farmers unions’ approaching Brexit with air of optimism

December 31 2016

Britain’s farmers’ unions have ended the year with pledges to seize the opportunities offered by Brexit. In a New Year message to the industry, English NFU president Meurig Raymond’s tone was upbeat and confident as he looked ahead to the next 12 months. “There is no doubt in my mind that 2017 will be an historic, unique opportunity to present a new deal for farming with Britain,” he said. “We expect 2017 to be busy. We’ll set out our expectations for a post-Brexit domestic farm policy in the new year as part of our response to the anticipated Defra Green Paper, which will re-visit its unpublished 25-year plan and take Brexit into account. “This must aim to create a policy that delivers world-class farming that is supported by a world leading science base to ensure our post-Brexit future is profitable, competitive and productive for us all.” Mr Raymond said he was proud of how the NFU and his members had responded to the Referendum result. “Members’ message during our consultation has been clear – make the case for farming to Government; ensure we have a policy that allows farms to be profitable, competitive, and progressive; and don’t regret what might be lost - seize the opportunity. "NFU officeholders and staff have done just this. We’ve built an historic coalition with other farming organisations, food producers and processors and ensured that our messages are being heard in the corridors of power in Cardiff and Westminster.” NFU Scotland’s chief executive Scott Walker delivered his union’s message for 2017 and said NFUS would ensure that Scottish agriculture was central to talks on the future shape of agricultural policy, the basis for support, access to EU and world markets and access to non-UK labour. And he confirmed the union would work with other like-minded organisations. “It is a strategy that has already seen NFUS join with other unions in pulling together the largest-ever coalition of companies and organisations from the UK food chain. Our letter was signed by food producers, processors and manufacturers which employ nearly a million people with a turnover of £92billion. "Together, we called for tariff-free access to the single market and continued access to a competent and reliable workforce,” he said. “This is paramount for food and farming to flourish post-Brexit, and securing it will command NFU’s absolute commitment and resources in 2017.” But both men leaders make no bones about the impact of 2016’s referendum and the other challenges of the past year. “It is fair to say that 2016 has been a tumultuous year for the farming industry, as it has been for the country,” said Mr Raymond. Mr Walker referred to Scotland’s wettest winter on record, crashing farm commodity prices and a cash crisis compounded by the Scottish Government’s failure to deliver support payments and said: “For our members 2016 has been a torrid time.” Yet Mr Raymond said that despite the uncertainty for farms, public support for British farming remained as strong as ever. He added: “We must continue to give people strong reasons to back British food and farming now and in the future. British farming is the bedrock of the UK’s largest manufacturing sector – food and drink. The sector is worth £108 billion to the nation’s economy and provides jobs for 3.9 million people.”

Motoring news

Join the queue for littlest Audi Q

November 9 2016

Audi’s relentless release of new models continues with the launch of its smallest SUV. The Q2 goes on sale in the UK next week with prices starting at £22,380. There’s an extensive selection of petrol and diesel power trains as well as the option of front or Quattro four-wheel drive. More models will be added to the range later on, including powerful SQ2 and RSQ2 versions. Aimed squarely at a younger audience, the Q2 has bolder, sharper lines and a different shape to Audi’s bigger SUVs, the Q3, Q5 and Q7. Although it’s clearly meant more for buzzing around cities than growling across farmland, cladding and skid plates lend it an aura of ruggedness. Audi is also offering a range of vibrant colours to deepen the Q2’s appeal to youthful buyers. The interior is as plush as you’d expect from Audi, justifying its price hike over similarly sized SUVs like the Nissan Juke and Honda HR-V. The materials are high quality – softtouch plastics, leather on higher spec cars and brushed aluminium trim elements all blended into a smart-looking package. As standard, drivers get a seven-inch infotainment screen on top of the dashboard. It’s operated through Audi’s rotary dial system that’s far more intuitive and easier to use when on the move than rivals’ touchscreen systems. Among the many options is Audi’s excellent Virtual Cockpit - a 12.3in screen that replaces the manual instruments behind the steering wheel. Overall, the Q2 is 4.7in shorter than the A3 hatchback, but Audi says there’s enough leg and headroom for two adult passengers in the back. Boot space comes in at 405 litres – 50 more than you’ll find in the A3 hatchback and rival Nissan Juke, although it trails the Mini Countryman by the same amount. To begin with, the only diesel option is a 1.6 litre with 114bhp, although a more powerful 184bhp 2.0 litre unit will be added to the range soon. Similarly, the petrol engine range is limited for now but will be expanded by the end of the year. The 1.4 litre, 148bhp unit offered now will be joined by 1.0 litre, 114bhp three cylinder turbo and 2.0 litre, 187bhp options – the latter coming with an S-Tronic automatic gearbox. When it arrives the 1.0 litre petrol version will be the cheapest model in the range with a price tag of £20,230. Courier Motoring has yet to get its hands on the car but early reviews have been very positive and Audi looks to have yet another winner on its hands. jmckeown@thecourier.co.uk

Road tests

Audi Q2 puts quality over size

March 21 2018

Audi’s Q2 was one of the first premium compact SUVs on the market. It sits below the Q3, Q5 and the gigantic, seven seat Q7 in Audi’s ever growing range. Although it’s about the same size as the Nissan Juke or Volkswagen T-Roc, its price is comparable with the much larger Nissan X-Trail or Volkswagen Tiguan. Even a basic Q2 will set you back more than £21,000 and top whack is £38,000. Then there’s the options list which is extensive to say the least. My 2.0 automatic diesel Quattro S Line model had a base price of £30,745 but tipped the scales at just over £40,000 once a plethora of additions were totted up. Size isn’t everything, however. In recent years there’s been a trend of buyers wanting a car that’s of premium quality but compact enough to zip around town. It may be a step down in size but the Q2 doesn’t feel any less classy than the rest of Audi’s SUV range. The interior looks great and is user friendly in a way that more mainstream manufacturers have never been able to match. The simple rotary dial and shortcut buttons easily trounce touchscreen systems, making it a cinch to skim through the screen’s menus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eQ5p5Z7-Ek&list=PLUEXizskBf1nbeiD_LqfXXsKooLOsItB0 There’s a surprising amount of internal space too. I took three large adults from Dundee to Stirling and no one complained about feeling cramped. As long as you don’t have a tall passenger behind a tall driver you can easily fit four adults. At 405 litres the boot’s big too – that’s 50 litres more than a Nissan Juke can muster. Buyers can pick from 1.0 and 1.4 litre petrol engines or 1.6 and 2.0 litre TDIs. Most Q2s are front wheel drive but Audi’s Quattro system is standard on the 2.0 diesel, as is a seven-speed S Tronic gear box. On the road there’s a clear difference between this and SUVs by manufacturers like Nissan, Seat and Ford. Ride quality, while firm, is tremendously smooth. Refinement is excellent too, with road and tyre noise kept out of the cabin. It sits lower than the Q3 or Q5 and this improves handling, lending the Q2 an almost go-kart feel. On a trip out to Auchterhouse, with plenty of snow still on the ground, I was appreciative of the four-wheel drive as well. The Q2 is expensive – though there are some good finance deals out there – but you get what you pay for. Few cars this small feel as good as the Q2 does. Price: £30,745 0-62mph: 8.1 seconds Top speed: 131mph Economy: 58.9mpg CO2 emissions: 125g/km

Farming news

Holyrood urged to press ahead with changes to greening rules

August 22 2016

The Scottish Government has been urged to press ahead with proposed changes to greening rules which would strip out so-called gold-plating standards and put the industry on a more even footing with growers south of the border. The Brexit vote will lead to different arrangements in future but in the expectation that existing arrangements for direct support through the CAP will remain in place at least until 2020, NFU Scotland (NFUS) has told Rural Economy secretary Fergus Ewing that he needs to make changes to the demanding rules. At a meeting with Mr Ewing on Balbeggie farm near Perth, NFU Scotland crops committee chairman Ian Sands detailed the union’s demands. These include the growing of Nitrogen Fixing Crops (NFC) to meet greening requirements; the use of conversion factors when calculating Ecological Focus Areas (EFA); grazing on buffer strips; management of fallow land and a greater choice of EFA options including forestry and hedges. Mr Sands also pointed out that many Scottish farms experienced flooding and damage to drains last winter but growers were precluded from doing drainage works at a logical time because of the current interpretation of the rules in Scotland. "That, again, isn’t the case in England," he said. “Scotland also needs a broader range of EFA options and Europe has indicated it will accept changes to Scotland’s current list. That opens the door to further options, which have real environmental benefit, being made available from 2017. In particular, we believe that hedges and forestry should be added. “Given the uncertainty that lies ahead, Scotland’s growers deserve to get the best deal from greening measures and we hope that this visit will encourage the Cabinet Secretary to make the most of this opportunity to strip out Scottish Government’s own gold-plating. That would make the years ahead where we continue to operate within the CAP more manageable and efficient for our farmers while still delivering meaningful environmental benefits.”