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Farm Surpluses and Subsidies Must Decline, English Farmer Says

December 5, 1985

CHERRY HILL, N.J. (AP) _ A British farmer who raised $3 million to send grain to Ethiopia and hosts a television show on agriculture says farmers on both sides of the Atlantic are victims ″of our own success.″

Increasingly strong farm lobbies since World War II ″have persuaded governments to pay subsidies for commodities that nobody wanted and nobody can afford,″ Oliver Walston told members of the New Jersey Farm Bureau at their annual meeting Wednesday night.

″You ought to look in the caves under Kansas City, at the millions of tons of milk powder and butter that no one will ever eat,″ said Walston, who farms 3,000 acres in Hertfordshire, England, about 50 miles north of London.

″Farmers all over the world are going to have to face reality. We are the victims of our own success,″ he said, citing programs that encourage farmers to produce as much as possible and guarantee the purchase of surpluses.

The blond, ruddy-faced farmer, whose farm program is shown on British commercial television, organized a drive last year that raised $3 million to send grain to starving Ethiopians.

In Britain, wheat is measured in 40-bushel ″tons,″ and Walston encouraged farmers to donate proceeds of one ton out of each sale.

″When they made the sale, they’d just say, ‘Send a ton to Africa’ and the merchant would check off that amount,″ Walston said. ″The farmer didn’t have to write a check or lick a stamp.″

He took a television crew to follow the wheat to its destination in Ethiopia’s embattled Eritrean provinces.

″It was a bit frightening. We had to travel at night because bombs are going off in the day. But the wheat got to the right people,″ Walston recounted.

Government promises to absorb surpluses started as a safety net for farmers after World War II, ″but in the next 20 years, farm groups - like the farm bureau - pushed the safety net higher and higher. Today it has gone from being a safety net to being a ceiling,″ said Walston.

″Sure, what I’m saying is anti-farmer,″ he said, but added, ″Farmers are prepared to take bad news from other farmers much more easily than from outsiders.″

Farmers everywhere face a common denominator - what they owe to the local bank, he said.

″If you don’t owe a lot, you’ll survive the next 10 years,″ Walston said. ″I owe a lot of money, which I now rather regret.″

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