30 August 2002

UNIFIEDFARMERACTIONISONLYWAYTOREGAINLOSTGROUND&INCOME

Desperate times call for desperate measures. There is no mistaking the desperation within many farming communities. From milk at 15p/litre to wheat at £51/t, almost every sector of British agriculture seems blighted by lower prices, higher costs and mind-numbing bureaucracy.

So its little surprise that farmers are being driven, once again, to take direct action. The latest initiative led by Farmers for Action, which took the form of withholding farm produce from sale last Friday attracted only modest support. Its impact would have been greater if the NFU had given its backing. But the organisation argued that such action could jeopardise relationships between farmers and their buyers. Also hard-pressed farmers can ill afford to relinquish much needed income.

Meanwhile, NFU Scotland is planning action to help producers in the three hard-hit sectors -dairying, pigs and cereals. Amid all the industrys anger and frustration one thing remains clear. Farmers best chance, perhaps their only chance, of being heard is if they find the courage, determination and commitment to speak with one unified voice. We recognise that such an undertaking is about as easy as attempting to herd wildcats. But without such a unified voice politicians will find it easy to ignore the tragedy which is continuing to unfold in our countryside. Recent history shows that they are seldom slow to exploit any rift or division within the farming community.

Now is the time for solidarity. We need a co-ordinated industry action aimed at persuading consumers to demand the best of British food. Consumers should be encouraged to take personal responsibility for the food on their plate. That means buying top quality, high welfare, environmentally friendly food produced in Britain rather than lower-priced imports of dubious quality. Now theres a message we can all unite behind.