By Philip Clarke, Europe editor

UK farm incomes plunged by 8% last year, according to recently published figures from Eurostat.

Continuing problems of BSE, higher interest rates and an over-valued currency have been blamed.

However, within the EU, better livestock prices and a clear-out of farm labour were behind a 1.9% rise in incomes.

Countries with a heavy reliance on intensive livestock fared best.

Finland, Denmark and Belgium topped the Euro league, with income gains of 25%, 24% and 14% respectively .

Grain-producing countries faired less well, with France seeing a mere 1.3% income gain and Italy suffering a 2.8% fall.

Only Portugal did worse than the UK, with a 9.3% decline.

The Eurostat figures show UK farmers are earning just 59% of their 1995 incomes (per unit of labour), compared with 103% for the 15 member states on average and 109% for the Euro-zone countries.

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