28 January 2000


Devon beef and sheep producer John Hillson was the winner

of the Mitsubishi Challenger in our recent competition. Its

been quite a morale booster at a difficult time for lowland

beef farmers like him, as he told John Burns

RARELY has a farmers weekly prize been more warmly received than the Mitsubishi Challenger which arrived at beef and sheep farmer John Hillsons mobile home near Bere Alston in Devon just before Christmas. That mobile home is the base from which he runs a fragmented holding of some 160ha (400 acres) mostly rented on a short-term basis.

To move sheep and cattle around the district he used a livestock trailer drawn by a 1981 Range Rover which was "on its last legs". He also ran a 1983 car which he kept going by cannibalising another one. So the Challenger arrived in the nick of time and will mean that he can accept invitations to judge South Devon cattle at "up country" shows which in the past he has turned down because his vehicles were too unreliable for long journeys.

Mr Hillson started farming in 1978 and had made good progress until the BSE bombshell struck. Like many lowland suckled beef producers on rented land his main asset was his pedigree South Devon herd – and that fell overnight to a third of its original value. Cull cows weighing up to a tonne regularly made over £1000. Today they make less than £300 through the compulsory OTMS.

Mr Hillson runs 55 South Devon cows and rears all the offspring for sale finished or for breeding -though in recent years there has not been much price difference between the two categories, he says. He also lambs 60 ewes and grows 20ha (50 acres) of cereals.

Despite the grim outlook for lowland livestock farming he is determined to carry on. "If necessary until I have nothing left," he says. "I have struggled this far, Ive still got 20 years working life left, so I will fight on."

And he means literally fight, if necessary. He cannot understand why farmers are not more active in fighting for their future. "They have to get off their backsides. Tony Blair isnt listening and Jack Cunningham should be held responsible for all the suicides among farmers since he took office as minister of agriculture."

Mr Hillsons New Year resolution is to step up his own militant action and he nurtures an ambition to lead a group into Downing Street. He would be pleased to hear from like-minded farmers willing to join him in such a venture.

After the initial euphoria of winning the Challenger Mr Hillson felt it was unrealistic to keep it in view of his all round shortage of cash. But after careful assessment he decided to keep it, pointing out that he needs a vehicle capable of pulling a cattle trailer as well as a reliable car for long distance travel. &#42

See more