15 May 1998

Farm industry lagging – NFU

NFU members are being warned that they must become more competitive in order to survive.

In the unions first edition of a new annual farm economics report, it says that while it is not despondent about the industrys longer-term prospects, time is running out.

In the past, British agriculture has been viewed as highly competitive and efficient. But the NFU believes the UK is being caught up, and even overtaken by some of its competitors.

The labour productivity of UK farming, which in the early 1980s showed a significant lead over other European countries, has been overtaken.

Sion Roberts, the NFUs chief economist, pointed to liberalisation of world trade as being one of the biggest issues farmers are going to have to come to terms with.

"In 10 years from now, trade barriers that protect European agriculture from imports will have fallen to 25% of their level at the beginning of the 1990s," he says.

He also cites EU expansion, which will increase the number of producing countries within the single market from 15 to 21, forming the largest economic trading bloc in the world. He added that the single currency could give an advantage to farmers in countries joining the economic monetary union.

But, Mr Roberts also suggests that UK farmers had a good chance to sell abroad if an "export culture" already present in many EU countries could be developed.

&#8226 For more on the NFU report see Business, page 19.