Thousands set to join farm protest

06 September 1999

Thousands set to join farm protest

By Johann Tasker

THOUSANDS of farmers are expected to descend on the seaside resort of Bournemouth later this month in a mass protest at the Labour Party conference.

The farmers claim the Labour government is increasingly dismissive of their plight and the deepening crisis in agriculture which has seen incomes plummet.

The demonstration is being planned for Monday 27 September – the second day of Labours conference week, Farmers Weekly can reveal.

It will be exactly a year to the day since thousands of farmers gathered for a similar rally at last years Labour conference in Blackpool.

Many producers will attend the protest convinced it is their last chance to drive home their claim for government help before they go bankrupt.

Many who feel besieged by an urban government say little has improved over the past twelve months to ease the pressure on their crisis-hit rural industry.

About 10,000 farmers are expected to attend the Bournemouth protest, said a spokesman for the south-east branch of the National Farmers Union (NFU).

The protestors will include hundreds of livestock producers expected to set off in the early hours to arrive in Bournemouth from south-west England and Wales.

The livestock sector has been hit hardest by the deepening farm crisis and some producers have protested against low prices by dumping animals in town centres.

Overall farm incomes have fallen by 75% in the past two years and farm-gate prices are at their lowest for 15 years, according to recent NFU figures.

Cull ewes worth almost £50 each two years ago are now worth less than £10 and lamb prices have fallen by almost 30% on last year.

Agriculture minister Nick Brown promised last week to ask the European Commission introduce emergency measures to help the sheep sector.

But many sheep producers claim that Mr Browns pledge to apply for Private Storage Aid in an attempt to boost the price of sheepmeat does not go far enough.

The aid scheme would subsidise the freezing of freshly-slaughtered meat to keep it off the market for seven months in the hope that prices would stabilise.

But many sheep farmers are also pressing for a further government scheme which would subsidise the mass slaughter of as many as 400,000 worthless ewes.

They will be joined by milk producers angry that the government has refused to reintroduce a scheme to subsidise the slaughter of week-old dairy bull calves.

The value of calves has plummeted since the Calf Processing Aid Scheme, which guaranteed producers about £40 per calf, was withdrawn in July.

Some producers are now effectively losing £35-40 on each Holstein calf, according to Simon Wragg, Farmers Weekly stock and sales editor.

Many producers see little sign of any price recovery in the near future, he said.

In the pig sector, which receives no direct subsidies from the government, farm-gate prices are slightly up on last year, however.

Pig values are still 31% below their 1997 level but have risen 3% since last season, according to NFU statistics.

Producers say increased welfare regulations have made UK production uncompetitive and blame the strong Pound for sucking in cheap pigmeat imports.

Pig farmers are no strangers to protests over the past year. But it remains unclear how many of their number will be travelling to Bournemouth.

“We dont have any plans to go at the moment,” said Meryl Ward, of the grass-roots British Pig Industry Support Group.

“But that doesnt mean we wont have in the next few weeks.”

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