Letter: We need a new breed of farmer

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HERE IN rural Wales farmers are losing our sympathy ("The farmer of the future", 29 August). The public will not forget how quick the "friendly farmer" has been to offload his animals to phone boxes and the RSPCA once they are a cost rather than a profit; or that the average household is paying about pounds 16 a week to prop up the common agricultural policy; or that the drastic decline in many bird species can be traced to the loss of habitat thanks to current farming practices. Farming just isn't working on any level and throwing money at it (pounds 4bn-pounds 5bn alone for the industry's BSE foul-up) seems foolish. What is needed is some imagination.

First, we need to see that growing vegetables or crops or rearing animals is a full-time commercial possibility for small farms in a global market. There are many routes - going organic and shortening the gap between producer and customer with farmers' markets, co-operative selling and so on. The literature on "permaculture" is full of ideas for the eco- sensitive, productive use of the countryside and its resources for personal and community purposes.

There is currently a demand for land for permaculture schemes but, apart from the problem of the price of land - artificially high while subsidies guarantee return - these projects always run into planning problems as the system rejects building in the countryside unless associated with commercial agriculture. Perhaps they fear that what starts off as well designed eco-sensitive smallholdings of a few hectares will soon be sold to BMW man/woman in search of a good view and a speculative profit. Local authority rules about access roads, entrance splays and their costs don't help.

The Government should be investigating how it can free up land for well- designed, eco-based schemes which are largely self-contained for energy and water, waste and so forth. Creating a vibrant, ecologically diverse, small-scale, attractive countryside is possible - even if it won't be run by today's farmers.

KEN WEBSTER

Ysbyty Cynfyn, Aberystwyth

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