12 January 1999
Walston hailed as hero by small farmers
By FWi staff
FAT-cat farmer Oliver Walston, who receives an annual subsidy cheque for £180,000, is being hailed as a new industry champion for smaller-scale producers.
Mr Walston, who farms 2000 acres in Cambridgeshire, has already told thousands of television viewers it is “idiocy” he should receive such a vast sum of money.
And in last nights episode of his four-part BBC2 series Against the Grain last night, Mr Walston argued that subsidies should only go to smaller farmers in less prosperous areas.
The programme went out the same day – Monday – that Agriculture Minister Nick Brown pledged to canvass the views of every farmer in Britain about reform of the subsidy system.
An estimated 80% of almost £4 billion in farm subsidies is sent to just 20% of farmers, many of them wealthy barley barons in south-east England.
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Mr Walstons views are likely to infuriate producers such as Hugh Oliver-Bellasis, who was shown on the programme defending a £250,000 annual subsidy cheque.
But many farmers who saw the programme agreed that the subsidy system should be reformed, although some accused Mr Walston of having a blunt approach.
“At last we have a champion who will ensure the rural community of Britain will have a fairer deal,” said Peter Heath, who has a 800-acre mixed farm in Shropshire.
“We livestock farmers in the west can farm on less than half Mr Walstons acreage and produce two or three times his turnover. Yet we receive one-sixth of his subsidy.”
Paul Temple, who has a 600-acre beef and arable farm in East Yorkshire, accused the programme of using “shock tactics”, but he, too, agreed with Mr Walston.
“I may not agree with the way he presents his facts, but he is right,” said Mr Temple.
To show he supports some subsidies, Mr Walston travelled to Cornwall to interview John Goodenough, a smallscale livestock producer struggling to make ends meet.
Mr Goodenough, who farms on Bodmin Moor, told viewers that subsidies were the only hope he and many small farmers had of staying in business.
“Last year I had the accountant do my accounts and my bottom line was £509 for two years work,” he said.
In next weeks programme, Mr Walston will visit Peter Rogers, an Anglesey sheep farmer who has seen sales far from buoyant at his local livestock market.
“Theres no getting away from the fact that what Mr Walston is saying about subsidies is right,” Mr Rogers told FWi.
“But Im glad that he thinks family farms in these areas need support. Id be glad if more people came here and saw there was a very different way of life to East Anglia.”