5 January 1996

Membership keeps the faith in unions

FARMERS have not lost faith in the ability of farming unions to influence government policy.

Despite the growth in public support for environment and animal welfare groups over the past decade most believe that the farming lobby still has some political clout.

Almost two-thirds (63%) of farmers questioned said that farming organisations could either definitely, or at least to some extent, influence MAFF policy. Only 8% said farming organisations had no influence at all.

Strong support for the NFU came from the 247 farmers questioned. Most (70%) were NFU members and 73% regarded the union as the most influential UK farming organisation. But many believed that the unions power had diminished over the past two decades.

Forty-five per cent said that farming organisations were less influential than they were 20 years ago. Almost one-quarter (24%) claimed they were more influential and 16% said their influence was about the same.

Over a third (34%) questioned believed that environment/welfare groups had a much bigger influence on MAFF or government policy than farming unions. Another 18% said that these pressure groups were just slightly more influential.

More influence on MAFF

Less than a fifth (19%) said that farming organisations had a much greater or slightly more influence on MAFF or government policy.

Despite their belief that farming organisations could influence government policy, 38% cited competitive insurance rates as the reason for NFU membership. One-third said political representation, 22% said farming policy advice and 14% legal advice.

Most members are satisfied that the NFU either definitely, or to some extent, represents their interests. But farmers weekly found that there was a significant level of discontentment among grass-roots members. Almost one-fifth (19%) said that they were not totally satisfied that the NFU represented their interests and another 3% said they were certainly not satisfied.

Almost one-quarter (23%) of smaller family farmers with 50-199ha (123-492 acres) said that they were not totally satisfied with NFU representation. In the regions the greatest level of disquiet was in the south-west, where 25% of members were not totally satisfied.

A similar percentage (24%) of Scottish farmers also said that they were not totally satisfied that the SNFU represented their interests.

Lack of interest

The biggest reasons for staying out of the NFU, given by non-members, was plain lack of interest (22%) and the belief held by 21% that the union did not represent them. Another 12% believed it achieved very little for UK farming and 15% said membership cost too much.

More than one-quarter (27%) are members of the Country Landowners Association. But when asked which farming organisation had most influence on MAFF or government policy only 15% cited the CLA.

Other organisations

The survey discovered few farmer members of any other country or farming organisation. The British Field Sports Society attracts support from 10%, and 6% are members of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group.

Five per cent of farmers are members of the Tenant Farmers Association and 2% members of the Farmers Union of Wales. Another 8% are members of either The Game Conservancy (4%) or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (4%).

Twelve of the 287 farmers questioned are members or supporters of either Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the World Wide Fund for Nature or the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. &#42