14 June 2002

Curry puts proposal for fair price ombudsman

By Isabel Davies

and David Green

DONALD Curry has raised the idea of a farmgate price ombudsman to act as an independent referee in cases where farmers believe they have not received a fair price from buyers of agricultural products.

Sir Donald, who chaired the policy commission on the future of farming, told a meeting of East Anglia farmers on Mon, June 10 that the idea was very much his own and was just a rough concept at this stage.

But if the retail sector continued to consolidate and commodity prices continued to be pushed downwards, then he could see in future years an independent ombudsman might be needed to ensure farmers received a fair price.

Speaking to farmers weekly after the meeting, Sir Donald said the farming industry must first prove it had taken steps to produce food as efficiently as possible. To do this it would have to use the information provided by the Food Chain Centre – a collaborative venture between farmers, processors and retailers – to make sure they had stripped out costs, he said.

"It is a very rough suggestion and an awful lot of work is needed."

Sir Donald attended the meeting in Newmarket, Suffolk, to allay fears about the impact of proposals, put forward by the commission, to increase modulation.

Arable farmers in the region fear the recommended rise in the rate of modulation – 10% from 2004 – will further hit incomes which are already unsustainably low.

About 200 farmers attended the meeting to put forward their concerns about issues ranging from the power of the supermarkets to the public image of farming. They expressed scepticism that the policy commission report would be fully adopted by the government and that it would bring benefits to farmers.

There was particular concern about the direction of agri-environment schemes which, some farmers claimed, were only available to a minority.

But there was also support for the commissions findings and an appeal from Suffolk farmer, James Black, for everyone to get behind the report as it was the only way forward for the industry at the present time.

"Id like to see everyone here contacting their MPs and getting them to put pressure on the government to implement the recommendations," he said.

Sir Donald told the meeting, organised by the NFU, that the modulation programme was not popular for understandable reasons and was "inappropriate".

But modulation was the only way extra money would be available – through matched funding from the Treasury, Sir Donald said. &#42