10 September 2001
E Anglia’s farmers no ‘barley barons’

By FWi staff

MANY East Anglian farmers are working for nothing and are having to live off borrowings, according to a new survey carried out by chartered accountant Larking Gowen.

The gloomy news consigns the image of the barley baron to the bin – and there is worse to come, according to the report.

“There is no doubt that things are very hard and farmers are facing the toughest conditions since the 1930s,” said partner, David Missen.

On average, farmers made a profit of just 63/ha (25.50/acre) in the 2000 harvest year, according to the survey, which covered 87 mainly arable farms with about 20,240ha (50,000 acres).

That is less than half the 1999 figure and about 25% of profits achieved in 1996, reflecting the continued weakness of the on commodity prices and area aid payments.

Family farms in the 162-324ha (400-800-acre) bracket, almost all of which employ some labour, were hardest hit, losing about 2.30/acre.

Smaller farms, which can meet nearly all their labour needs within the family, were buffered from the worst effects of the downturn, making at least 150/ha (61/acre), similar to 1999.

The largest farms enjoyed some economies of scale, achieving slightly above the survey average.

However, low yields this harvest following one of the wettest winters on record, and higher costs associated with it, means profits in the current harvest year could slip further, despite the recent rise in cereal prices.

Nevertheless, farmers are staying put. “There has not been the flight from the land that many have predicted, with the industry resolved to tough it out,” said Mr Missen.

“Many farmers could sell up and probably get a better living from investment income, but that is just not in their blood.”

However, an increasing number have reorganised their business, with more and more using contractors to carry out arable operations, he added.