14 November 1997

Crisis, what

crisis?says

farm minister

These are troubled times for

Scottish farming and one of

the major troubles is that

wolf has been cried so often

in the past that there is an

unwillingness among those

who matter to believe the

wolf really is at the door

this time

SCOTTISH farm minister Lord Sewel has been out and about all summer, supposedly getting a feel of the industry for which he is responsible. The crisis escaped him. During a visit to the Perth bull sales last month, he pointed to an 18,000gns Aberdeen-Angus, mentioning that land prices were still high, and concluding that there was little wrong with the health of Scottish agriculture.

He failed to mention that more bulls remained unsold at Perth than found buyers. He failed to appreciate that Irish buyers, roll over tax relief, and the scarcity of land are maintaining values meantime but the writing is on the wall.

Within five minutes of his appointment, Lord Sewel warned there was no pot of gold, silver, or even brass. But he has made much this summer of new avenues of income, and more money in direct support for tending the countryside. The seriousness of that intent can be judged by the fledgling countryside premium scheme which attracted 900 applicants but has such meagre funds that large number have been turned away.

Less welcome today

During the early summer, Lord Sewel visited a large scale Dumfriesshire hill farmer to praise his efforts to protect a heather moorland. The minister would be less welcome today as that farmer faces a drop in income of £80,000 because both EU and HLCA support have been slashed.

The truncated hill farming review will be remembered as the biggest direct slap in the face given to farming leaders for a very long time.

And still the Scottish NFU president, Sandy Mole, talks of building bridges with Lord Sewel and his colleagues.

Two new organisations have been formed which, to many, indicate disaffection with the Scottish NFU. The Scottish Beef Council has former union president John Cameron at the helm with a record of taking on government agencies and winning.

More recently the Scottish Dairy Farmers Association brought producers and all the major milk buyers together to talk common cause with government. The Scottish NFU is hanging on at the fringes of that new body but it is known that the union leadership felt slighted that farmers felt the need for a new pressure group.

The incomes crisis which is affecting almost every sector of Scottish farming and beef producers more than any other group, provides a breeding ground for discontent.

Part of the beef suckler herd at Glenmanna. The land runs up to 2000ft.

Scottish farm minister Lord Sewel took the opportunity at the Perth Bull Sales to claim that there was little wrong with the health of Scottish agriculture.

Scottish Winter Fair

Date:Nov 18 and 19

Opening times:Nov 18 opens 5.30pm

Nov 19 8am-10pm

Place:Perth Agricultural Centre, East Huntingtower, Perth

Admission:Nov 18 – free. Nov 19 Adults £7, OAPs £5,

under -12s free.

More details:Contact Audrey M Fenton (01738-449430)