01 September 1999
Farmers plight wins media support
By Johann Tasker
THE plight of Britains farmers wins has won sympathy from the mainstream media after journalists were warned yesterday of a mass exodus from the land.
The widespread coverage in todays papers of the crisis affecting producers is seen as a major breakthrough in the quest to win the publics support for farmers.
The National Farmers Union believes the support of the national press is vital to the success of its campaign to secure emergency aid for farmers from the government.
It believes that ministers could be pressured into granting aid if the general public is made aware that farm incomes have plunged to disastrously low levels.
We need public support for farmers and one of the ways of reaching the public is through the media, an NFU spokesman told Farmers Weekly today.
Awareness and people understanding the plight of what farmers are going through is what its all about so they can translate that into pressure on their politicians.
Ben Gill, NFU president told reporters yesterday that vast tracts of countryside could be turned to desert unless help was given to the agricultural sector.
He said the exodus could mirror what has happened in France where the number of farms has fallen from two million 30 years ago to fewer than 700,000 now.
A decline in farming in the UK would have a massive impact on the rural economy with a severe knock-on effects for local communities, he said.
UK farm incomes have fallen by 75% over the past two years in a rural crisis that is increasingly accepted as being as bad as the depression of the 1930s.
Mr Gill suggested that remote areas such as Cornwall, Mid and West Wales, and parts of the northern uplands and the national parks, could turn to wilderness.
The farmers ongoing campaign for government help will include a mass demonstration later this month at the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth.
The NFU has also launched an audit of 83,000 of Britains 240,000 farm businesses to find out the human costs of the crisis.
Mr Gill is scheduled to meet agriculture minister Nick Brown tomorrow as the campaign heats up to raise public awareness of the plight of farmers.
He hopes to persuade Mr Brown to approve a package of emergency aid measures for the industry including aid to take unwanted calves and ewes off the market.
The Guardian carries an extended analysis of the problems in British agriculture in the wake of the launch of the NFU audit in London yesterday.
The NFUs view is echoed by a similar warning made by Jim Walker, president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, reported in The Herald.
Other papers too have widespread coverage of the event, although some farming readers may think that some proposed solutions are less than realistic.
Alice Thomson, writing in The Daily Telegraph, says that the answers to the NFUs audit are predictable: farm incomes are down by 75% in two years.
British farmers need to return to mixed farming, she writes.
Then, when theres a fall in world prices for mutton, skins and wool, they dont need to abandon their lambs at telephone boxes.
Instead, they can serve hay-baked leg of lamb with creamed celeriac and fresh mint sauce in their own restaurants.
The Daily Mail says that the ruthlessness with which supermarkets treat farmers in the quest for cheap food is only part of the problem.
The high pound, the lunacies of the Common Agricultural Policy make matters worse, and farmers are being crushed by bureaucracy.
This time, it is not a question of the agricultural community crying wolf, says the paper.
The lessons need urgently to be grasped by a government which seems neither to understand nor care about the countryside.