28 November 2001
Crops Conf: Gill rallies growers

By Tom Allen-Stevens

FARMING leader Ben Gill rallied delegates at the Crops Conference to seize their own destiny and fight together to get the industry back into profit.

“We have got to determine our own future in a way that will bring sustainability and profits,” he said at the conference that he chaired on Tuesday (27 November).

“If we rely on politicians to lay down where we are going, we will lose the battle.

“We need to continue to drive down costs, strike better deals and chase out inefficiencies,” he said.

But he had a stern warning for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which refused to send a representative to speak at the conference.

“The government would do ill if it stood in the way of an industry that is determined to succeed.

“But it must help us if we are expected to deliver the endless higher environmental and food safety standards thrown our way.”

There was widespread condemnation of Defra ministers among delegates, summed up by local farmer and conference speaker Adrian Peck:

“Im disgusted at their attitude. Their opposition to agrimoney was extremely disappointing and shows their disdain for arable farmers.

“Only 30% of agrimoney has been claimed since it was set up. Had we received the full amount that would have tipped most of us back into profit.”

Margaret Beckett, who was represented by a cardboard cut-out, was singled out for criticism by many delegates.

Will Gemmill, head of Strutt and Parkers agronomy service, suggested she should marry an arable farmer to find out just how difficult things are.

Norfolk grower and ex-chairman of Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) David Richardson said: “The fact that she didnt come condemns her to criticism.

“She doesnt make any effort to understand our situation – shes just solidly against us.”

He offered his “whole-hearted” support for the Crops petition – profitability was the number one objective when LEAF was formed, he pointed out.

But some at the conference, like north Norfolk grower Teddy Maufe, felt the key points from the conference were wasted if restricted to delegates alone.

“Were preaching to the converted. We desperately need to get the message back to Defra and out to the general public.”

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