30 March 2000
Family farmers slam farm summit

By Isabel Davies

FAMILY farmers have slammed the Downing Street summit between Tony Blair and industry leaders, saying it will do nothing to help small producers.

The government was in danger of sacrificing long-term agricultural policy for short term aid measures, said the Small and Family Farms Association.

The association held its own “alternative summit” ahead of the official summit between the Prime Minister and the National Farmers Union.

Michael Hart, chairman of the association, was joined at the meeting by the National Federation of Young Farmers and environmental groups.

“The policy that is being pursued at present can only result in industrial farming – the very kind of farming the general public claims it does not like.

“The government has to realise that a sound agricultural policy is no less important than sound health and education policies.”

Mr Hart told reporters and delegates that he was concerned about how the public would react if the Prime Minister announced an aid package for farmers.

“To the general public, it will look as though tomorrow the Bank of England will be writing cheques to farmers,” he said.

Glyn Coleclough, of the National Federation of Young Farmers, voiced his dismay that new entrants had been refused a meeting with the prime minister.

He said: “I cant understand how the government can discuss the future of agriculture without the future generation being there.”

Graham Wynne, chief executive of the RSPB, said Mr Blair should address wider issues as well as creating a better future for farmers and rural communities.

“It is vital for delegates to look beyond short-term political expediency and see the positive role that agriculture can play in preserving wildlife and the environment.”

Alistair Rutherford, of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, said a secretive summit was not the way to develop a new future for farming.

“It smacks of the bad old days when farm prices and policy decision were stitched up deals between the NFU and the Ministry of Agriculture,” he said.