27 September 1996

SWplea for beef aid at Party event

NFU members from the south-west arranged their own fringe meeting at this weeks Lib-Dem party conference in Brighton to plead for more help for stricken beef farmers.

Alan Bartlett, Somerset county chairman, said he wouldnt normally go to party conferences. But the problems in the south-west, particularly with the over 30-month scheme (OTMS), were so serious that farmers had to take every opportunity to seek help.

Devon county chairman Peter Crozier said that August prices for steers were down 20% on last year, while for heifers the market was even worse with a 25% drop.

It was extremely frustrating for farmers to suffer such losses while the beef price in the supermarkets had fallen by only 0.75% he said. And beef imports had increased by 22% in the past six months to satisfy manufacturers who used to buy older cattle from British farms.

Encourage consumption

It was vital for everyone to encourage the consumption of British beef, which was why the south-west region was working so hard to get burger chains to start using home-grown beef again.

The OTMS problems were outlined by Dorset vice-chairman, Robert Bowditch. The south-west stocked 29% of the countrys cattle which explained why it was suffering greater problems. The backlog was growing because 4400 cattle were being booked in for slaughter each week, yet only 4000 a week were being killed.

Latest NFU estimates put the backlog in the region at around 47,000 cattle, although Mr Bowditch thought the figure could be even higher. And with winter approaching he warned that there was going to be a major animal welfare problem unless cattle were moved off farms.

Cornwall chairman, Philip Stephens, said that the cash-flow problems experienced by farmers meant that the rural economy was also suffering. About £100m had been wiped off the value of the regions beef market since March. Economists suggested that 127 jobs were linked to every £1m of farm output.

On that basis the south-west stood to lose 12,700 jobs if beef prices did not recover.

in the next few months Mr Stephens said.

Paul Tyler, Lib-Dem agriculture spokesman, welcomed the NFU south-west regions presence at the conference. He said the failure of government to take control of the OTMS was "an appalling dereliction of duty". And he said there was an urgent need, before winter, for more financial help for specialist beef producers.