8 January 1999

Walston defends his call to scrap farm subsidies

By Johann Tasker

SELF-CONFESSED fat cat farmer Oliver Walston has defended himself after telling thousands of television viewers that the £4bn of taxpayers money paid each year in subsidies to Britains farmers should be scrapped.

Mr Walston, who admits he was "born with a silver spoon in just about every orifice known to man", made the call in the first programme of the BBC2 series, Against the Grain.

"We are becoming subsidy junkies," he told viewers, after describing the system which sends him a £180,000 cheque every Christmas as "completely crazy".

Mr Walston employs only four workers on his 809ha (2000- acre) farm in East Anglia. He spends £50,000 a year on sprays and makes few concessions to the environment.

His statements and production methods incensed many farming viewers, some of whom took part in the first programme.

Michael Hart, who was shown battling to scrape a living from his small farm in Cornwall, said: "Im worried that many viewers will switch off after this programme and not see the conclusions reached at the end of the series."

But Mr Walston defended his stance, saying that although all production subsidies for lowland arable farmers should be abolished, hill farmers should still be supported.

"People listen to what they want to hear," he told FARMERS WEEKLY. "Ive got the reputation of a man who wants to end all subsidies."

The remainder of the series will argue that supporting all farmers is pointless but subsidising rural communities and individuals is a different matter.

"For scenic and environmental reasons, abolishing payments in upland areas would be a bad thing," said Mr Walston. "It would also be a bad thing socially because farming in those areas is the only thing which provides an income."

Farmers interviewed for programmes to be shown over the next three weeks are now waiting nervously to see how their comments have been edited.

Next weeks programme, to be screened on Monday, will show Mr Walston "outing" the £250,000 subsidy received by fellow farmer Hugh Oliver-Bellasis.

Mr Oliver-Bellasis, who employs 30 workers on 1214ha (3000 acres) in Hampshire, said the subsidy cheque enabled him to protect the environment by farming less intensively.

"I have more farmland birds of the type the RSPB is concerned about purely because I farm in a certain way," said Mr Oliver-Bellasis.

"Farming in the way I do, and employing the number of people I do, I am entitled to that amount of public support."

Fighting talk from barley baron Oliver Walston, who uses his annual £180,000 subsidy cheque to collect tanks and armoured vehicles.