6 October 1999
South-west threatens NFU revolt

By FWi staff

FARMERS from south-west England are threatening to take a hard-line stance at a National Farmers Union council meeting behind closed doors today.

Grass-roots NFU members are angry their leaders in London have again rejected the idea of diverting farm subsidies from big farmers to smaller producers.

They also claim the unions one-member-one-vote system of electing NFU officials is unfair and benefits large units at the expense of family farms.

Both issues will be raised by delegates from the south-west at a council meeting chaired by Ben Gill, NFU president, in London this morning.

He is expected to explain to south-west representatives why the NFU has again thrown out proposals to “modulate” farm subsidies in favour of smaller farms.

Union leaders overwhelmingly rejected the idea of modulation in its response to a Ministry of Agriculture consultation last month.

They claimed that any money saved by reducing subsidies to large producers is unlikely ever to find its way into the pockets of small family farmers.

Small-scale farmers in the south-west are also disgruntled that only members who turn up to local meetings are allowed to vote in elections for union officials.

Many producers claim they dont have the time to spare to attend such meetings and have pushed for a postal one-member-one-vote system instead.

They claim the crisis in agriculture means family farmers cant afford the time to attend the election meetings and so their votes are never cast.

Anthony Gibson, NFU south-west regional director, recently offered Somerset members a postal vote – and gave his written guarantee it would take place.

But in doing so, Mr Gibson had to go against the wishes of NFU leaders who have consistently refused to extend the postal vote to all its members

Now, however, other NFU regions where small farmers form the bulk of the unions membership are also thought to favour a postal voting system.