18 April 2000
NFU denies endorsing Labour report
By Donald MacPhail
FARMERS representatives have denied endorsing a report by an influential group of Labour MPs who say producers dont have an automatic right to make a profit.
The remark was made by the 100-strong Rural Group of Labour MPs in its manifesto on the countryside which was launched on Tuesday (18 April).
Peter Bradley MP, chairman of the backbench rural group, said he hoped to see many of the proposals adopted in the governments Rural White Paper.
The document, entitled A Manifesto for Rural Britain, argues that farmers have no automatic rights to profits and subsidies and must earn these.
Farmers “must regard their livelihood as a business”, it adds. “Too few do.”
The MPs say farmers must do more to exploit market niches, respond to consumer demand, and be more imaginative and aggressive in marketing.
A press statement accompanying the manifesto lists the National Farmers Union as one of 14 rural organisations which “broadly endorse” the report.
The manifesto quotes Barney Holbeche, head of NFU parliamentary affairs, as saying that it draws attention to key issues facing farmers and rural Britain.
But Mr Holbeche told Farmers Weekly he dismissed the claim made in the manifesto that many farmers are not business-oriented.
“By definition, those farmers who are hanging on in the raging storm of the current situation most certainly know how to run a business,” he said.
Mr Holbeche said that, as a non-political organisation, the NFU would not endorse a party political document.
It was “naughty” of the Labour group to claim the union had done so, he said.
But he added that some parts of the report highlighted key issues facing agriculture which the NFU hopes will be addressed in the Rural White Paper.
The Labour MPs advocate an early retirement scheme for farmers, a proposal previously considered by the government, but rejected on the grounds of cost.
Other recommendations include business training for farmers; incentives for co-operatives; less red tape; better planning rules; and off-farm employment.
The authors also want more support for organic farming; entry into food processing; a national network of farmers markets; and environmental schemes.
Farmers contributions to the beauty of the British countryside are recognised by the MPs, who argue for a balance between “protection and permissiveness”.
They call for greater protection for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and more support for farmers to protect landscapes.
Measures should be introduced to support biodiversity and promote public access, and tougher penalties for polluters.