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It is still illegal for a sheep farmer to sell his own wool or anything made from it to anyone other than the BWMB! The effect is to stifle innovation and local initiative.

Dear Mary,


Your article prompted by Hilary Peters’ observations ( prompts me to add that here in North Devon, our Farmers’ Markets are not on their last legs – but it is difficult to find farms that are able to make use of them.  


The reason, I suggest, is that British farmers have, for years been trained, obliged, even to concentrate on the production of basic commodities. 

 After the Second World War, the activity of selling produce to customers was taken away from British farmers.  Marketing Boards were created – and farmers were required by law to sell their produce to them. 

 The intention was to make Britain as self sufficient in agricultural produce as possible.  Farmers were not to be distracted by the need to sell produce.

 The Marketing Boards did that, leaving the farmers to concentrate on producing as much as possible of what they could produce.

 Most of the Marketing Boards have now been disbanded.  The Milk Marketing Board was the last to go.  The British Wool Marketing Board [BWMB] still continues.  It is still illegal for a sheep farmer to sell his own wool or anything made from it to anyone other than the BWMB!  

 The effect is to stifle innovation and local initiative.

  The creation of the BWMB had the effect of causing the closure of almost all the local woollen mills and the loss of their wool grading skills.  Now a sheep farmer wishing to use his own wool and process it locally must deal with a monopoly which is supported by the law – and if he succeeds in reclaiming his own wool, he will not find a local processor.  Little wonder that everyone is wearing “fleeces” made from artificial fibre – and wool is almost a waste product on most sheep farms.


The other Marketing Boards may have been abolished, but their aftermath, compounded by the barmy system of CAP subsidies, lingers on and British farming is still preoccupied with producing commodities in bulk rather than products for direct sale.  50 or so years of training and practice- and enforced loss of infrastructure - cannot be quickly reversed.  Practical help is needed – not words or be-suited advisers from “Farm Business Advice”, “Business Link” and the rest.


Your headline “October 9 - Oct 16 2004 ~ "urgent and essential" that farmers link up to the powerful marketing machine that is at its disposal” reminded me of your item on

Sept 18 - Sept 25 2004 ~ “British farmers are not allowed to promote their own produce to the consumer ...”


I picked out some apposite comments from the article “Salty food, public health and the farming industry” 


“After two and a half years and £500 million pounds, Sir Donald Curry hasn't spent any of his Sustainable Food and Farming budget (taxpayers money to help the farming industry post foot and mouth) on reconnecting farmers and consumers with how their food is produced or where it has come from. (ie. farmer led marketing activity to the consumer).”


“As we speak, there’s a poster campaign promoting three different varieties of French apples in the French supermarket chain Super U. It’s funded by EU money and supported by the French government. We’d never get that passed the men in grey suits at the DEFRA State Aid Rules section. They could just be marketing ignorant. But they’ve told me that they are also working with the supermarkets. So their amazing incompetence becomes less convincing.


The supermarkets would rather have a free rein to source apples from anywhere in the world and keep farm-gate prices down. Low food inflation for Tony and high supermarket profits for Tesco, Wal-Mart and Sainsbury’s. Everyone’s happy.”


“The NFU run by Richard Macdonald is launching their Red Tractor logo campaign. Sir Donald Curry, the man who is supposed to be 'independent' is backing the campaign. He says it will help the industry reconnect with the consumer. The Red Tractor has managed to secure Government funding.


The creative idea is mortifyingly embarrassing, and the campaign is massively under funded, but again these aren’t the real problems. It’s the fact that the Red Tractor with the words ‘British Farm Standard’ emblazoned across it, can go on imported food that’s the real problem. NFU is following supermarket strategy. Sir Donald Curry is following supermarket strategy. The Red Tractor is a fudge. It can go on imported produce and keep the supermarkets happy.”


“If the Government/DEFRA would simply allow farmers to market their own produce to consumers (fruit, vegetables, potatoes, meat and milk) by unblocking State Aid Rules, we might find that the public started eating more healthy foods. We might even become educated about the quality of our food like the French. Over £100 million of farmers’ money per annum is blocked by State Aid red tape. So there wouldn’t be any need for extra public money to be spent as we could use existing budgets.


Through the marketing of local quality food, farmers would be helping to create a totally different food marketplace, one where consumers valued where their food has come from and how it has been produced. We might even get some clear country of origin food labeling in place, traditional breeds of meat and increased diversity of produce. But the supermarkets and food processors might not like that.”


Makes you think, doesn’t it?


Lawrence   xx