1 March 2002

Majority want arable union

By Tom Allen-Stevens

TWO-thirds of farmers support the creation of a new arable association to represent the interests of crop producers. Hundreds of farmers voted in a poll on Farmers Weekly Interactive this week, with the vast majority supporting the move.

The idea, first mooted by Essex farmer Guy Smith, has received support from many large arable farmers in the eastern counties disappointed with the way the NFU has represented them.

"Im increasingly worried about the situation," said Cambridgeshire farmer Oliver Walston. "The NFU cannot represent my interests as an arable producer and livestock farmers, at the same time."

He would support an American-style system where one union =lobbies politicians on behalf of all farmers, but sector-specific issues are tackled by separate organisations.

Now large producers in the south are adding their voices to the debate. "There could be a big danger in splitting corn and the horn, but the NFU has lost the plot on PR," said Hampshire grower and chairman of British Cereal Exports Simon Browne.

"The Curry [policy commission] report reaction is a classic example. To resolutely refuse to consider modulation when every other body supports it is just stupid."

Like Mr Browne, Adrian Dixon, who farms 650ha (1600-acre) near Micheldever, feels the NFU is fighting too many corners. "As a lobbying organisation theyre doing quite well. But getting the message out to a wider audience could be done better."

Nick Rowsell, an arable farmer and contractor near Winchester said: "Im not sure that fragmenting is the solution, but there are a lot of focused, single issue pressure groups on the other side that seem to be very effective."

Other farmers, like David Gray with a 345ha (850-acre) arable and dairy concern near Winchester, staunchly support the NFU. "Its the industrys only sensible mouthpiece. I would not consider joining any breakaway group."

Hants NFU county chairman Robert Corbett agrees: "The unions doing a pretty good job. If arable farmers feel poorly represented, it probably has more to do with the imbalance of stock producers at the top of the NFU."

NFU director general Richard Macdonald was disappointed at the survey results but that he could wholly empathise with the need for a better position for the arable industry and better public appreciation of the plight of arable farmers.

"But the industry is better sticking together; so please come and tell us [NFU] what you want." &#42