29 February 2000
Brand your produce, farmers urged

By Jeremy Hunt

BRITISH farmers must urgently adopt a new approach to market their produce and move away from volume production of unbranded commodities.

This is one of the conclusions of a report launched in Lancashire this week by 10 farmers who formed the Bowland Transnational Group

The group visited areas in France and Ireland similar to their own north-west region to see what lessons could be learned from the practical experiences of other EU farmers.

Joint author and Lancashire farmer Thomas Binns of Clitheroe has no doubts about the negative effects of unbranded commodities.

“The constant supply of huge quantities of unbranded UK produce is playing into the hands of the retail giants, who find it easy to push prices down in this type of marketing scenario.”

The report says French farmers – whose prime lambs are worth twice as UK counterparts – believe British producers must take greater control of the price they receive.

“In the UK, the large retailers become uneasy when consumers start to demand specific, regionally branded products.

“Thats when farmers can start to have more influence over price.

“Its a demand fired by consumer awareness of quality and high standards of production.

“Its a scenario that presents a tremendous marketing opportunity for British farmers,” says the report.

The report also urges UK farmers to undertake co-operative marketing as mainstream practice.

In a veiled criticism of the NFU, it calls on the “guardians” of British farming to communicate more effectively.

It also recommends that a new European network is set up to allow agricultural issues to be debated at farmer level.

Clitheroe dairy and sheep producer William Slinger believes UK farmers are not always given the full facts over Brussels directives.

“How often are UK farmers told by the government that its hands are tied because Brussels says so?

“From personal experience gained from visits to France and Ireland, I would say that this is manifest nonsense.”

The report calls for a new system of monitoring all departments and agencies involved in agricultural policy to address a lack of accountability.

The report also highlights the availability of low-interest loans and retirement schemes on offer in France.

It claims a “significant proportion” of UK farm income could be derived from other sources if farmers received the level of financial and political support enjoyed in France and Ireland.