By Robert Davies

WALESS 20,000 livestock farmers are being urged to invest a minimum of 250 each in a new marketing co-operative.

The prospectus for The Welsh Meat Company PLC, or Cwmni Cig Cymru, was launched by Rhodri Morgan, the National Assemblys First Secretary, at Gelli Aur College, Carmarthen.

He encouraged producers to read it, seize a golden opportunity to improve their marketing and, over time, get involved in down-stream processing.

The venture is backed by the Welsh Agri-food Partnership, the Welsh Development Agency, all the major farming organisations and some abattoir operators.

But it is strongly opposed by Welsh livestock market auctioneers. Their patron, Lord Geraint of Ponterwyd, said its success would close most markets, making producers “the puppets of the big supermarkets”.

John Davies, the new co-ops chairman, who also chairs the feed and farm requisite company Wynnstay and Clwyd Farmers, said it hoped to work with auction centres and existing marketing groups to allow Welsh producers to gain a stake in the supply chain.

He believed they could benefit from working together in a more structured marketing system which, if it were commercially advantageous, would make it easier to invest in meat processing facilities.

At first it would be a procurement company seeking premium prices in return for committed volumes of consistent quality livestock.

To become a reality the new company must attract 1000 investors by 28 June. Backers hope to sign up 2000 members by June 2002, and have commitments to supply 800,000 lambs and 20,000 cattle a year.

Talks are already under way with potential buyers, including Farmers Fresh, the Farmers Ferry sister company already exporting carcass lamb.

At the launch, a spokesman for Farmers Fresh said he hoped the two farmer-owned companies could work together, but only stock from producers who had also invested at least 250 in Farmers Fresh would be accepted.

Hugh Richards, president of NFU Cymru-Wales, said any initiative to improve the traditionally “pathetic” marketing ability of livestock farmers was very welcome.

It was vital to put more money in farmers pockets by adding value to primary products.