3 July 1998

Back us, sheep

industry urged

By Robert Davies

EVERY registered sheep producer is being urged to boost live sheep exports by backing a farmer-run livestock ferry.

More than 10% of the £1.3m needed to operate for two years has been raised. But if twice-daily sailings, each carrying up to 26 trucks between Dover and Dunkirk, are to begin at the end of July, money must flow in quickly. A week was lost when Barclays withdrew as bankers.

The idea of farmers operating their own ferry was proposed at a producers meeting in Powys in January. Concern about the impact on average prices of a steep decline in live sheep exports led to the selection of six local farmers to investigate possible options.

They found a suitable vessel and agreed berthing facilities. Their calculations suggested that sheep could be shipped for far less than the £12/head cost of using walk-on walk-off services. But they were told that charges for setting up an operating company and issuing prospectuses to farmer-investors would be between £150,000 and £200,000.

The time involved would also have made a 1998 start very unlikely, so they decided to go ahead as Farmers Ferry Ltd, a company limited by guarantee. That means asking farmers to gift sums of money to the venture. The amounts requested are £100 for the first 100 ewes and £20/100 ewes for the rest of the flock. Cattle and cereal producers are also being asked for support.

If the required amount is not raised, gifts will be returned less a pro-rata share of expenses.

The five directors get expenses, but will not be paid, and will not export directly.

"We are simply trying to provide an export facility that will let our industry carry on legitimate trade with the rest of Europe," says David Owen, company secretary. "We need to secure our corner of the market before Eastern Europe gets its act together. It will be no use in two years time saying if only…"

The project has received huge support in Wales and some areas of England, but the directors accept there is insufficient time to hold enough producers meetings throughout Britain.

"Whenever we speak to farmers we get almost 100% backing, but we cannot hope to talk to everyone face-to-face," claims chairman Terry Bayliss. "We are writing to all producers and if 20,000 to 30,000 of them respond the ferry will sail, and we will show that the industry can help itself.

"The ferry will be our road to the market that exists across the Channel. It is a distortion of fair trade that we are prevented by a 22-mile stretch of water from supplying loutlets with our products."

Directors are working with MAFF, the Meat and Livestock Commission, the National Sheep Association and welfare agencies to draft a strict welfare code. This, and all existing EU livestock transportation rules, will be rigidly enforced.

Cheques can be sent via livestock auctioneers, or to PO Box No 1, Portishead, Bristol BS20 9BR.

Planning the future for sheep exports…L-R David Smith of Andersons, John Lloyd, Chairman Terry Bayliss, David Owen and Glyn Jones.