16 July 1999

Future for small-scale farming looks bleak…

FINANCIAL pressure is driving UK farming remorselessly towards larger and more capital-intensive units, says Conservative MP and former junior farm minister David Curry.

Mr Curry, visiting the Great Yorkshire Show at Harrogate this week, said he would hesitate to advise anyone that there was a future for small-scale farms.

Sheep farming was moving towards ranching and the whole industry was going into large-scale agri-business. This process was not going to stop. There was a danger of farming becoming locked in a spiral of increasing poverty, said Mr Curry, who is MP for Skipton and Ripon.

The government, he conceded, could not be blamed for all that had happened, but he suggested some areas where it could help the industry.

Much was said about the UKs influence in Europe, yet the government introduced unilateral measures, such as abattoir charges and animal welfare rules, which put the industry at a disadvantage. It did not appear to worry about the effect of such measures on producers ability to compete, he said.

Mr Curry also suggested that government should protest more vigorously about payments made to other EU farmers which could be illegal. Instead of asking producers for evidence that such payments were being made, ministers should find out for themselves and do something about it.

What were agricultural attaches for? Did they not read the French Press? he asked.

Mr Curry also emphasised the need for government to recognise the serious crisis in the countryside, which was particularly acute in the uplands. It was important that, when it came to allocating structural funds, the uplands "got a fair crack of the whip", he said.