15 September 2000

Fuel crisis hits home, but most support action

By FW reporters

FUEL shortages were causing severe disruption on arable farms and in the grain trade earlier this week, but most growers contacted by Farmers Weekly supported the blockades.

In the North and Scotland, most merchant and co-operative stores will have run out of fuel for drying by the weekend, says Allied Grain director Ian Douglas. The firms own store at Lowick, near Berwick, stopped intake on Tuesday.

"We had two days worth of grain in store for drying, and that is all we had fuel for," he says. Now growers face an impossible decision: "If they do not cut it, it will rot in the field. If they do, it will rot in the barn."

At Alnwick, Northumberland, barometer farmer Matthew Hanson admits his support for the fuel tax protests is clouded by his own farms vulnerability. "We still have 400 acres of wheat and 40 acres of peas to combine. And goodness knows when the beans will be ready. I have enough to do the wheat and peas and 250 acres drilling with the Vaderstad, and then thats it." Coastal Grain co-op, which does Mr Hansons drying, ran out of fuel on Tuesday.

Even in East Anglia, cereal harvesting is being hit. "Several of our members are still harvesting wheat and having to give priority for fuel to the combine, so the drier has to go short," says Camgrain manager Philip Darke. "Heaps of damp grain are now piling up with no prospect of being dried immediately."

Fuel is likely to run out by Friday for Ken Rush at Hall Farm, Shimpling, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Cultivators and drills waiting to tackle 1214ha (3000 acres) will stand idle and 2000ha (5000 acres) of contract beet lifting for Ipswich factory is in jeopardy. "There is absolutely no way we can start lifting beet until the crisis is resolved," he says. "Our three multi-row harvesters, plus back-up trailers, need around 1000 litres a day."

Sugar factory start dates may slip, says British Sugar spokesman Geoff Lancaster. "If this is not resolved soon, it could affect opening dates."

Former western barometer farmer Andrew Cooke, near Shrewsbury, reports police pulling over every 4×4 vehicle to check for red diesel.

On Tuesday, western barometer farmer Richard Burt had enough diesel for eight days. "I support the action being taken completely," he says. "If we are out in eight days time, I dread to think what a mess the country will be in." &#42

Total backing

Eastern barometer farmer John Latham backs the action fully. "I am all in favour even if it hits me. I just hope the lorry drivers who are doing the dirty work for all motorists stick it out. Tony Blair hasnt understood the mood of the country. The question is whether the support will still be there when things get really difficult. We have enough fuel to get half our wheat in, but I have stopped subsoiling and pressing to conserve stocks."

Is it the wrong time for protest?

Two Farmer Focus writers back the protest, but say it is mistimed. "At present we are off our heads to be picketing," says Kelso-based John Jeffreys. He reckons he has enough fuel to finish harvest, but not enough to start potato lifting. "The French waited until they had finished their harvest before they started their blockades."

In Essex, Trevor Horsnell is virtually out of fuel which is urgently needed for heavy cultivations and potato lifting. "We are working off the froth in the tank. Something had to be done to make this government listen. It is just unfortunate that it is being done at the wrong time."