10 September 1999

Welsh on their knees – just like rest of the UK

Scores of local farmers

turned out to meet members

of the NFUs less favoured

areas committee when

they visited three Welsh

farms this week. As

Robert Davies reports,

although producers were

angry, they were also deeply

concerned about the future

COMMITTEE chairman Peter Allen, whose own son has rejected farming in favour of a career in the air force, said the crisis in the Welsh LFAs mirrored the position throughout the UK.

The industry was on its knees and a whole generation of young people was questioning whether to stay in the job.

If they quit, the skills needed to farm the LFAs, many of which could not be taught in a classroom, would disappear with them. While good upland farmers could convert into successful lowland operators the reverse was not true.

"It is worth remembering that the Incas of South America were wiped out in a single generation," warned Mr Allen.

"The clock is ticking and if some of the indigenous population walk away they will not be replaced."

Incomes had fallen for the third successive year and many producers were living off their savings. Tough people who had survived previous crises were in despair because this time they could see no light at the end of the tunnel, and they feared the outcome of reform of the Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowance (HLCA) scheme.

The consequences of a switch from headage to area payments would be profound for some.

"We are determined that what is a socio- economic measure must not be repackaged as an environmental tool. We do not want another bloody land army in corduroy trousers and suede shoes telling us how to farm. Unless HLCAs do what they are meant to do the basic fabric of the countryside is at risk," Mr Allen said.

He added that getting information from MAFF on HLCA reform was like getting blood out of a stone.

The NFUs views on a transitional scheme and targets for the autumn review of LFA support would be announced on Monday (Sept 13), and he refused to give any figures in advance. But he was adamant that he would not accept a return to 1998 levels as a starting point for negotiation.

As far as his committee was concerned there must be nothing less than a full review of farm incomes and that should be the basis for the payment levels set.

"We will have one hell of a battle and will need to make some big hits on other departments of government," Mr Allen said.