8 March 2002

NFU hits at new group call

By Tom Allen Stevens

THE final results of a farmers weekly Interactive poll have prompted the NFU to hit back at farmers calling for a new specialist arable pressure group.

Two-thirds of the 590 who cast their vote said they would support the creation of a new arable association.

But the NFUs director general, Richard Macdonald, told famers weekly that the desperate situation facing arable farmers had overshadowed the many achievements notched up by the NFU. He added the arable sector was now his "top priority" and called for unity from the NFUs 60,000 farmer members.

"I am very worried about this perception that small, non-government organisations are better than us at bending the ear of government – it simply is not true," he said.

"We have access to the top DEFRA officials as well as those at the top of government, which is something few organisations have, including most NGOs."

Mr Macdonald said that it had been a year of great disappointment for arable farmers, in particular over agrimonetary compensation. But he pointed out that £290m of the total £480m available had been paid over the years.

"Yes, some of this was compulsory, but we were the ones who fought hard to ensure the compulsory agrimonetary system was set up."

But he said the union was not a closed enclave "beyond reproach", welcomed members contributions and was open to change. He called on farmers to pull together to give arable issues the profile they deserve. "It is a huge loss to waste energy on fighting internal issues."

But he refused to be drawn on what changes would be recommended in the Meeting Members Expectations internal review, which will be delivered to Council next week.

Meanwhile, Guy Smith, who sparked the debate by suggesting an arable association should be set up, has said a specialist arable group could stand quite happily side by side with the NFU.

He said many arable farmers were ready to support a new voice that could do much to get DEFRA to focus on arable issues. "Arable farmers are fed up with not being listened to and are fed up with being smeared by every trendy pressure group which thinks it is open season for having a swing at the arable sector," he said.

The Commercial Farmers Group, made up of large farmers who aim to build a greater recognition for the UKs food industry, has joined the debate.

"I would rather see the NFU, the CLA, UKASTA and the Tenant Farmers Association come together and promote the importance and significance of food production in the UK, rather than spin off – we need a stronger, not a weaker voice," said spokesman and Kent potato farmer Nick Tapp. &#42