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'Supermarkets must back food producers'

by 5m Editor
22 February 2007, at 10:39am

UK - Farmers' leader Peter Kendall urged the supermarket giant retailers to back food producers by offering professional long-term supply arrangements.

He told the fifth annual Anglian Farmers' conference yesterday that some of the biggest retailers were "simply talking the talk" whole others were actively engaged with farmers.

Mr Kendall, who was elected president of the National Farmers' Union almost exactly one year ago, told the 380 delegates of his growing fears for the future of the dairy industry.

"The dairy sector of enormous concern to me. We're losing dairy farmers at a frightening rate," said Mr Kendall, who was told by leading Norfolk farmer Stuart Agnew that at least 10 more herds were likely to be dispersed in the coming months.

"I see increasing number of retailers including Waitrose and M&S wanting to engage in professional, long-term relations where they pay a premium and profitable prices. I see farmers clambering aboard and wanting to supply them."

Mr Kendall, who is a cereal grower on the family's arable farm near Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, was critical of Asda's drive to be the retailer of the cheapest food. "That to me is a horrible image for food," he added.

In a 20-minute keynote address at the John Innes Centre, Colney, he said that the industry had moved on from the days when it was "blamed for over-production, for dumping food on world markets."

He was determined to get the "industry on the front foot" and demonstrate the importance of farming to society. "I think that the days of us standing up and saying that we can produce at all costs and in some way we have a God-given right to be farmers have gone. We now quite clearly accept that we have environmental responsibilities," he said.

"Farming is incredibly important to the society, to the economy and to the maintenance of the countryside," said Mr Kendall.

He had a message for the chancellor of the exchequer. "I do not want him to see an old-fashioned industry that stands up saying: Where's my money? I want him to see us an industry with market focus, up to providing solutions, good for society as a whole, and taking environmental responsibilities seriously."

Source: EDP 24

5m Editor