13 August 1999

GIVE UP TOO LATE

AND RISK LOSING IT ALL

Farmers want to farm and

when times are tough they

do everything they can to

keep going, but, says this

West Country pig farmers

wife, you need to know

when to give up. Before

you lose everything

THERE is plenty of good advice given by experts setting out ways for farmers to survive the crisis the industry is going through.

In the short term we are told to restructure our borrowings, extend our loans and negotiate interest payment only. We are also advised to diversify, to find niche markets and to market our own goods.

Sound advice given with the best intentions, but what if it is too late to put these measures into practice? What if prices fall and our debts increase? The outcome is that insolvency looms closer and closer.

We celebrated 25 years of pig production. We had come from the home counties in 1972 to a 13-acre holding with pig buildings in Cornwall. The plan was to develop pig production, because of its quick return, and then expand, buy land, and diversify. But the instability of the pig market prevented diversification.

We concentrated our efforts on pig production. We had periods (albeit few and far between) of financial fulfilment. As we paid back loans, we took out new ones, to pay for buildings, stock, and, on one occasion, for 5 acres of land.

&#42 Stock value plummeted

We were always aware of the value of our assets, and appreciated that when the pig market was bad the value of stock plummeted. During these times, we were aware that our sows had only cull value regardless of their breeding line, age or state of gestation.

We were always very much aware of the national and EU situation and did all we could on the political front. We wrote to and pleaded with agriculture ministers, Euro MPs and MPs. We went to Brussels, and the plight of pig farmers was forcibly detailed to all relevant bodies. Articles were written for regional farming magazines, and we made full use of the nationals – for example exposing the scandal of bacon from the EU packed in the UK and labelled as "British".

We had an exceedingly good rapport with our bank and kept the manager informed at all times. Above all, we did not bury our heads in the sand. But all this effort was in vain.

We loved our farm with an intensity that was quite overwhelming. We worked hard, planned, and limited the material luxuries of life. There were so many compensations; a lovely part of the country to bring up children, and a business of our own. But despite the never ending work, and total commitment, we have lost our farm, and have nothing left.

We took the good advice, we developed our product, found niche markets, and we marketed our own goods. Unfortunately, there was no good advice on how to get customers to pay. Reputable restaurants, hotels, wholesale and retail outlets, without exception, just ignored the terms of payment. One multi-million £ chain of restaurants when challenged that their bill of £10,000 was four weeks overdue, and that they were just using us for free credit, replied: "Well that is business, isnt it?" We struggled on determined not to give up, until circumstances took control and we had no choice but to admit defeat. Armed with £325 cash (it must be cash) we went to the county court and petitioned for voluntary liquidation. We had paid every bill we could giving priority to small traders, and did not issue one cheque that bounced.

&#42 Credit cards taken

From then on control was out of our hands. We were stripped of credit cards, cheque cards and book, and filled in endless forms about every aspect of our failed business. Within two weeks, the bank did a forced sale, and our precious stock was sold for worse than knock-down prices. It has since transpired that the bank had no right to force the sale, but the trustee of bankruptcy says it is not worth pursuing!

Now our farm is to be repossessed. We have nowhere to go, but worst of all it has driven us apart, isolated in our own sense of loss, our own misery and grief, we are no longer together. In retrospect, we should have ceased trading while we were still solvent. There is no shame in good sense, and no reward for pride and obstinacy. To have quit with assets, so that we could set up a new life would have been so much more comfortable than to be told by the council housing officer, as I was recently, that I only qualified for the homeless shelter.

Kind people tell me I will come out the other side, but what is on the other side? How far away is it? And will I really get there? I still read the advice given in the farming press, and know from my own circumstances it was not right for us. The sense of failure and rejection, the sense of isolation and the frightening experience of having nothing and nowhere to go, is perhaps something these experts ought to investigate.

&#8226 This is the true story of a

couple who fought for but lost their future in farming.

We are not printing their names to save further distress.