12 May 2000

Co-operate or become extinct, warns Morgan

By Robert Davies

WELSH family farms must co-operate more or risk becoming industrial relics, according to the National Assemblys First Secretary.

Addressing his first public farming meeting since getting the top job at the assembly, Rhodri Morgan warned delegates at the Farmers Union of Waless annual meeting in Aberystwyth that they faced a stark choice; rediscover traditional Welsh co-operation or accept that there would be fewer but much larger farms in future.

"Farmers cannot look to the assembly to protect the status quo, or to retreat into some golden age, that probably never existed anyway," said Mr Morgan. "There is no Merlins magic wand. What the assembly can offer is a partnership to help the industry innovate and adapt."

It was ready to play a leading role in helping small farms survive as economic pressures force the industry towards the creation of big agri-businesses. But the number of family farms that survived would depend on the extent to which they were prepared to use available advice and funding to work co-operatively.

The CAP did not permit the assembly to inject extra short-term subsidies into the industry and, anyway, these were not the answer to mid- and long-term problems.

"The greatest opportunity for distinctive action on agriculture within Wales lies in the field of rural economic development, to move Welsh agriculture into a position where it has premium products that command premium prices."

Producers could not hope to compete on world commodity markets for lamb and dairy products with countries that had climatic advantages and lower input costs, not even if family units were merged and all field boundaries were ripped out to get economies of scale.

"The future lies in concentrating on quality, high value added products which are well branded, so we can compete as much as possible on factors other than price. Do not get trapped into just producing raw commodities and handing over the big money to others.

"If farmers want to seize the marketing opportunities that exist they will have to form groups, which will commit themselves to consistent production regimes, and form suitable partnerships with processors that give them a share of the profits."

Terry Bayliss, chairman of Farmers Ferry, disagreed with Mr Morgans emphasis on adding value. Too often doing that added costs that could not be recovered. If the assembly wanted to put more cash in farmers pockets it should battle to get the calf export ban lifted as soon as possible.

Rhodri Morgan said the future is in quality branded products.