31 May 1996

When wife had to take the helm

WHEN Coleraine farmer Greer McCollum took over the presidency of the the Ulster Farmers Union his wife Rosemary never expected the limelight.

"I came into this job expecting to be in the shadow of my dear hushand and supporting him the best way that I could," said Rosemary who was suddenly thrust into a more active role when the BSE crisis flared up.

It meant that her husband had to be away from home fighting the battles for farmers and flying between Brussels and Strasbourg and other parts of Europe, leaving Rosemary to take the calls from anxious union members and their wives and become their unofficial counsellor.

"I refused to accept the `counsellor title. The situation is too complicated. Basically I am just a good listener," explained Rosemary who was also in demand on the UFU stand on the first day of the show.

Greer and son Mark produce beef as well as sheep and cereals so Rosemary is fully aware of the problems. "This may be worse for those with young bulls that are getting bullish and dangerous to work with," adds Rosemary whose phone is constantly ringing with calls from those who need someone to listen to, those who cannot get through to the officials they seek and those who just dont know where to turn.

She hears of farm families despair about the lack of feed accentuated by the cold spring weather, the pressure of banks and bills and the frustration of having a good product to sell and nobody wanting to buy it.

"Seventy per cent of Ulsters meat is exported and this is one of the reasons why we are in such a difficult situation," she says.

"Farmers feel that nobody has been listening to them," she says, "and they have nobody to let off steam to.

"The person you are closest too is always the one you lash out at. Mothers are trying to be strong for their families. I encourage them to talk among themselves and not to bottle things up – let everything come out. Join in a group and chat among themselves or with their best friends.

"What we should be doing now is promoting our beef as the safest. We are nothing without the customer."

Rosemary McCollum advises families not to bottle things up.