25 September 2000
‘22,000 may leave farming this year’

By Isabel Davies at Brighton

THE National Farmers Union has warned that job losses in British agriculture could top 22,000 for the second year running.

The strong Pound, over-regulation and high fuel prices are crippling efforts to turn the industry around, claims NFU president Ben Gill.

Speaking at a fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Mr Gill urged the government to fulfil the promises made at the prime ministers summit back in March and act to give farming a chance.

“The core issues of Sterling, over-regulation and fuel tax which are crippling our efforts and must be tackled immediately if we are ever to get British farming back on track,” warned Mr Gill.

“We cannot survive as it is.”

Releasing an update of the NFUs Contract with Society document, Mr Gill said the government needed to facilitate a balance in the food chain.

The stability of British food production was vital and it should be against this background that decisions should be made, he said.

“If we go without fuel there is a measure of inconvenience in the short term, but to go without food is more than an inconvenience.

“It causes panic. It causes worry.”

Mr Gill said he did not accept government claims that nothing could be done about the strength of Sterling which was “killing the industry on its feet”.

And although efforts were being made to cut the regulatory burden more legislation, for example Integrated Pollution Prevention Control and the water directive, was on its way.

In his reply, farm minister Nick Brown said the one thing that farmers should not do was to hope the problems would all go away.

Times were changing and there was no going back, he said.

He said reform of the CAP in 2002 or 2003 looked inevitable and supply-side support mechanisms would come under further scrutiny at that time.

Answering questions from the floor he admitted that most of what he had to say about the future of the industry was not new.

“The truth is the nature of the problem isnt changing it is just getting closer,” he said.

“The solution is market orientation – there isnt any other answer.”

But he agreed with member of the audience that it was ridiculous to encourage people to join agri-environmental schemes and then cut the payments.

Although he could not promise an immediate review, Mr Brown said it was right that the government should focus on the rates as well as the total spend because the schemes had to be “a real partnership”.