Rally will greet Labours
By Shelley Wright
DELEGATES arriving for the Labour Party conference in Blackpool later this month will be greeted by a mass gathering of farmers desperate to secure some future for their industry.
The demonstration, organised by the NFU and the Scottish and Ulster farmers unions will take place on Sunday, Sept 27.
Ben Gill, NFU president, said: "British agriculture is in the depths of depression with the strength of sterling squeezing the life out of every type of farming." Farmers representing all sectors will converge on Blackpool to call on the government to put rural Britain high on its priority list.
A rally will begin at 2pm at Blackpool Football Club, followed by a march along the Promenade past the Winter Gardens where the conference takes place.
"We are calling on the government to champion the cause of agriculture so that Britain has a viable and competitive farming industry in the years to come," Mr Gill said.
Two years ago, at the height of the BSE crisis, about 2000 farmers descended on Bournemouth, demonstrating noisily outside the Conservative Party conference. Their demands for Douglas Hogg, then farm minister, to come outside were unsuccessful. But the minister did use the conference to announce a package of emergency measures, including £29m extra support, for the beef industry. The protesters also secured a 90-minute meeting with Prime Minister John Major.
As part of the push to get the government to recognise that farmers are not crying wolf, the UK farming unions will hold talks in London next week and will also meet Chief Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Byers on Thur (Sept 17) to press for government assistance.
The strength of the £ and the urgent need for a cut in interest rates were issues discussed by Mr Gill when he met Governor of the Bank of England, Eddie George, this week.
Farm minister Nick Brown, who is due to visit Mr Gills Yorkshire farm on Sept 24, has also had his ear bent in the past week. An NFU delegation was followed by the leaders of the Tenant Farmers Association. Both organisations highlighted concerns such as the end of the calf processing scheme and the governments decision not to introduce an early retirement scheme.
The NFU team also stressed the urgent need for the implementation of bilateral arrangements with France to allow the export of whole sheep carcasses and asked Mr Brown to sanction an advance in IACS payments.
The Scots are also planning meetings with both the Scottish TUC and the CBI on Sept 23 to discuss the impact of falling farm incomes on jobs and the rural economy. The Scottish union then embarks on a series of three hill farming roadshows. *
Flashback… Two years ago farmer power secured a meeting with the PM at the Tory Party conference. Will there be a repeat this year at Blackpool?