18 February 2000

One third of my neighbours will go bust

By Robert Davies

TWO Labour politicians were given a verbal mauling during a Farmers Union of Wales organised farm visit in Monmouthshire where an accountant predicted that a third of farmers in his area would go out of business within two years.

Christine Gwyther, the Welsh Assemblys farm minister, was accused of speaking "bloody rubbish" for suggesting that more farmers should think about diversification. She and local MP Huw Edwards were told that the majority of farmers had neither the money nor the range of skills needed to start new enterprises.

They heard dire warnings from farmers, their wives, an accountant, bankers and young farmers that unless the government used available agri-money compensation, reduced bureaucracy and expensive over regulation, and curbed retail profiteering, there would be a mass exodus from the industry.

"The majority of my farmer customers are losing money and are surviving by not making the investments they should," said accountant Mark Gwillim of Guilfoyle Sage. "More and more farmers are approaching me for advice on getting out and I estimate that one third will not be here in two years."

Adrian Smith, who produces beef, lamb and arable crops on a 121ha rented farm at Dingestow, said the business lost £6000 in the last financial year and could lose twice as much in the current year.

Host farmer Windsor Howells said that after 40 years of hard work he and his wife Pat were thinking of ending his familys 400 year involvement in farming.

"If things go on like this with returns below the cost of production it is inevitable that we will have to throw in the towel."

Despite running 120 dairy cows and 260 breeding ewes at Ty Freeman Farm, Gwehelog, the business did not generate enough income to allow their son to work at home. &#42