10 September 1999

Demo veterans make points

WHEN the committee members arrived at Tan-y-Fron, Eglwyseg, Llangollen, the large banners local farmers used at numerous demonstrations confronted them, as did 50 local farmers.

If the committee had any doubts about the anger and frustration felt by LFA farmers, these were soon dispelled. Veterans of many all-night supermarket depot pickets and protest marches made it clear they were prepared to return to the streets.

Rhys Hughes, who runs 450 Welsh Mountain ewes and 20 suckler cows on the 53.4ha (132 acres) unit, set the tone when he reported that the previous day he had refused to allow a hot air balloon sponsored by Sainsburys to land on one of his fields.

"I was not happy that any of the balloons taking part in a rally should land without permission, but there is no way I would allow one linked to a supermarket to use my land," said Mr Hughes.

Greedy giant retailers who used the availability of imported meat to squeeze home producers, and destroyed demand by excessive marking up of prices, were one reason why his wife had to work, why they were eligible for Family Credit payments, and why he was ready to quit farming.

When he was offered £8 for a small Welsh lamb he decided to try direct selling. The same lamb processed and boxed was worth £26. Last season 150 lambs were sold direct and he aimed to sell 250 privately this year.

Mr Hughes told the visitors that his business had been destroyed over four years. The price of lambs had fallen from £1/kg to 60p/kg, and the return from his 8-month-old suckled calf steers was down from £500 to £300.

"About 95% of farmers wives in this area now have to work, and farmers themselves are being forced to take part-time jobs. Money earned off the farm is keeping failing businesses going, but the politicians simply do not care."

He urged the committee to press for action on the cull ewe crisis and crippling abattoir charges.