Upland generation risk
POOR market prices and changes to less favoured area support could wipe out a generation of upland farmers.
Karen Sinclair, a member of the Welsh National Assemblys agricultural committee, heard this grim prediction from many Merioneth farmers attending a Farmers Union of Wales arranged visit to Bodheulog, Cynwyd. Her host Cledwyn Davies said his son Dylan might be one of the casualties.
He said massive increases in production costs meant the 73ha (180-acre)less favoured area unit could not generate enough income to keep the family and pay his 20-year-old son a minimum wage.
"Our income from 526 ewes fell £9000 in 1998 and return from lambs sold so far this year is down another £4000. It is breaking my heart to see what is happening to the industry and nobody should be surprised that young people are leaving farming," Mr Davies told the Labour member for Clwyd South.
Bob Parry, president of the Farmers Union of Wales, told Mrs Sinclair that reform of the HLCA support system would exacerbate an already critical situation. The proposal that 35% or more of payments should be linked directly to environmental measures, and a switch from headage to area payments would penalise efficient producers like Mr Davies, who must stock fairly intensively to survive on small areas of land.
"The HLCA system was set up as a socio-economic payment to enable people to work difficult terrain, and not as an agri-environment measure," insisted Mr Parry.
"It seems possible that by 2010 all LFA payments could be linked to the environment so it is very important that the assembly listens to evidence from the unions during the current consultation."
FUW members who attended the meeting claimed assembly members were much more willing to listen to the extreme environment lobby than to farmers who worked the land and maintained the attractive landscape. They castigated politicians in Cardiff and Westminster for not establishing a cull ewe disposal scheme, and warned of another market-depressing increase in lamb production next season.
Mrs Sinclair defended the assemblys record on farming issues, but acknowledged that the crisis threatened farming businesses and the economic stability of rural areas. Problems linked to the strong £ and the aftermath of BSE were not easy to solve. *