10 July 1998

Proposals for farmers ferry greeted by cautious optimism

By Robert Davies

SHOWGOERS responded to the idea of a farmer-operated livestock ferry with a mixture of enthusiasm and caution.

A sheep lines straw poll of producers revealed 100% backing in principle. The views of Jean Pugh of Four Crosses, Powys, were typical. As she prepared her Kerry Hill sheep for the showring, she insisted that the industry had no choice but to put money into the project.

"If we do not we will lose one part of our market for good, making it even more likely that the supermarkets will take over the lamb trade," said Mrs Pugh.

Although she and her husband run only 85 ewes, she thought giving £100 to the project was a small price to pay to protect live exports.

Paul-Louis Mascaux, a French-man who has a flock of 400 ewes in Essex, said every sheep producer stood to benefit if the scheme succeeded, and he urged flockmasters to pay up. "We have the sheep, the potential customers and the best welfare regulations in the world. There can be no justification for allowing extremists to stop a legal trade, and I would like to see Dr Cunningham helping this project."

Warwicks producer John Brigg said producers should stand together to end the economic disadvantage of not being able to export live sheep freely. He said he was fed up with individual countries and the EU taking unfair actions against the UK.

Serious doubts

In contrast, Cotswolds flockmaster James Johnson will not. He supports live exports and applauded the idea of farmers helping themselves by running a ferry, but he had serious doubts about the way the company was constituted.

"I would invest if there was a prospectus and I could be sure that the whole thing was properly set up," said Mr Johnson, who has 600 breeding ewes. "I wish them well, but farmer-run companies do not have a good record of success." Jonathan Barber, chief executive of the British Charollais Sheep Society, reported that producers visiting his stand were talking about ferry idea and most felt positive about it.

"There is a strong feeling that the directors must ensure they have everything sorted out properly before exports start."

On the stand shared by Scotch and Welsh Mule breeders, there was support tempered by worries that the whole thing was being rushed. "Some people who would have invested money if a proper prospectus had been issued are reluctant support this idea," said Moss Jones secretary of the Welsh Mule Association.

Farmers Ferry chairman, Terry Bayliss, and fellow directors said: "We have between 25 and 30% of the £1.3m needed and are very optimistic about a late July start."

*Anyone wishing to contribute to the Farmers Ferry should send their donations to PO Box No1, Portishead, Bristol BS20 9BR. &#42