16 July 1999

Farmers handicap

GOVERNMENT policy decisions are hampering the farming industrys ability to compete on international markets, NFU deputy president Tim Bennett believes.

Farmers were trying to respond positively to the problems currently afflicting the industry, but they desperately needed to the government to help, not hinder, their efforts, said Mr Bennett during a visit to the Great Yorkshire Show on Tuesday.

Farmers were being encouraged to be competitive and to work together, but government actions, resulting in more bureaucracy and higher costs, made that very difficult. And, unless things changed, the result would be the effective export of the UK industry to the rest of Europe and the world.

"We will compete with our farmer competitors in a single market, given the opportunity to do so. At the moment we are not being given that opportunity," he said.

"We have the largest economy of scale in Europe yet we still cannot compete with our fellow farmers. If the government dont allow us to compete they are going to export our agricultural industry. And who would then look after the countryside?"

Country Landowners Association president Ian MacNicol accused the government of sending out "extraordinary signals". The industry was looking for support, but was not getting it.

A Bill on countryside access would add more cost to land owners and farmers and cause more aggravation. And plans for land reform in Scotland were horrendous, said Mr MacNicol.

He suggested that the publication of the Rural White Paper later this year would be a critical indicator of whether the government cared about farming and the countryside.