31 March 2000

Farmers pledge to blockade supermarkets

By FW reporters

FARMERS have pledged to continue blockading supermarket depots amid claims that yesterdays Downing Street summit between Tony Blair and industry leaders will fail to provide any immediate relief from the crisis in agriculture.

Representatives of the militant Farmers For Action group, which claims to have 10,000 supporters, were shut out of the meeting with the Prime Minister. They immediately warned that even if Mr Blair announced an aid package, it would do little to raise farm incomes.

On the eve of the summit, Andrew Groom, spokesman for Farmers For Action, said even full agrimoney compensation for dairy farmers would amount to little more than £600 per producer. He spoke as hundreds of farmers prepared to picket 10 Tesco depots after talks over milk prices with the supermarket broke down.

The protesters are angry that Tesco has refused to negotiate over prices with Farmers for Action, preferring instead to talk with the NFU. Former NFU county chairman Richard Haddock, who is a member of Farmers For Action, said: "This is an attempt by the supermarkets to divide dairy farmers."

Other farmers also claimed that the Downing Street meeting would fail to address the real issues affecting producers. The Small and Family Farmers Association hastily convened its own "alternative summit" just hours before Mr Blair sat down for talks with NFU president Ben Gill.

Jonathan Dimbleby, broadcaster and president of the Soil Association, chaired the alternative summit. Delegates included representatives from the National Federation of Young Farmers, Friends of the Earth and the RSPB.

Michael Hart, chairman of the Small and Family Farms Association, said government policies caused ever-lower farm incomes for producers. He said: "Unless the government addresses the faults in their long-term agriculture policy, it will become even more of a disaster for farming families."

Glyn Coleclough, chairman of the National Federation of Young Farmers, said policies should be changed to encourage younger people into farming. "Without the support of this government for new entrants into farming, there is no future for food production in this country."

Sandra Bell food campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said: "It is incredible that small farmers, who are hardest hit by the current crisis, were not invited to the prime ministers summit. They have always made a vital contribution to the rural landscape and are well-placed to meet the challenges that the industry now faces."