16 May 1997

Sunday forums big crowd

SUNDAY mornings agriculture and rural affairs forum received stronger support than usual. Extra seats had to be brought in for the young farmers – those under 40 rather than 26 – with the future of farming on their minds.

In the chair was Notts dairy farmer Michael Spencer, who chairs the NFYFC agriculture and rural affairs steering group. He warned young farmers about becoming known as whingers and encouraged them to give a positive image.

While political decisions at home and in Europe are of major importance, practical steps to protect the future of young people can be taken at home. Those who farm with their families should receive a wage for their work, both for their sakes and in order to show the true cost of farm enterprises, said Michael Spencer.

Jonathan Papworth, a former Cambridgeshire federation county chairman, suggested that young farmers sit down with their parents, their siblings and any other relations with an interest in the farm, to plan the future so that everybody is protected. It was a step that his family has taken so that everybody, including his non-farming brother, knows where they are going.

As a Denbighshire county councillor as well as a farmer, fellow panelist Eryl Williams is conscious of the opportunities available to young people in rural areas through EU 5b structures and Leader community-based projects, and is keen that would-be entrepreneurs take advantage of them. He urges them to go and see their local enterprise agencies and community project leaders.

He is also concerned about housing for rural youngsters and would like concessions to be made to allow the development of housing for those in forestry and agriculturally related industries as well as farming.

He regretted that the EU pension scheme for older farmers had not been taken up in this country and said that quotas have created hidden inflation. Farmers were still trying to produce quantity rather than concentrating on quality with an eye to the market.

Talks on olive oil and tobacco quotas are currently occupying John Lee, the EU young farmers president. His major concern is that agriculture should flourish in all parts of Europe and not just the prosperous ones.

He understood young peoples reluctance to take up farming opportunities with so much talk of reforms and challenges. Decisions have to be made not just for the future of agriculture, he says, but for rural areas.

While the CAP takes up 50% of the EU budget, money is not the problem, he says. The biggest problem is convincing the public that the money is doing the right thing.