26 November 2000
‘Give interest-free loans for farm machines’

By Isabel Davies

BRITAINS crisis-hit farmers should be given interest-free loans to buy new machinery, the Royal Smithfield Show chairman has urged.

Investment in new farm machinery has fallen to an all-time low, said Richard Ruston on the opening day of the show in London.

So few farmers are buying machinery that the status of Britain as one of Europes most efficient food producers is seriously threatened.

The government should consider giving interest-free loans to farmers in a bid to reverse the trend, he said.

Machinery manufacturers at the London event – one of Britains biggest agricultural shows this year – are attempting to put a brave face on the farming crisis.

John Deere and Kverneland, two of many major manufacturers exhibiting at Smithfield, claimed that their stands were among the biggest they have ever had.

But Mr Ruston said: “The industry needs to find a way to kick-start farming so we maintain our unique position as one of the worlds most efficient food producers.”

Investment in machinery leading to higher productivity is the key to efficiency, he claimed. But on most farms investment has ceased for some years.

“We rightly invest in our future with University students advancing free loans repayable only when and income stream makes repayments possible.

“Why not make such advances to farming businesses, repayable when profitability returns, to make possible that vital investment needed now.”

Speaking on Sunday (26 November), Mr Ruston admitted that the recession in farming had deepened further since the last Smithfield Show in 1998.

“Every sector has been hit hard and every enterprise connected with agri-business has been forced to re-structure to survive,” he told listeners.

But there is room for some optimism. Visitors to the show had an opportunity to see many examples of successful businesses within the agricultural sector, he said.

“There is no better place than Earls Court for farmers to learn how best to manage their businesses in the current turbulent market conditions,” he said.

Entries for the livestock competitions have increased from 548 in 1998 to 571 in 2000 and the number of livestock exhibitors has also increased, Mr Ruston added.

Nearly 350 exhibitors have taken stands in the machinery and business section of the show, including 62 which are attending for the first time, he revealed.

The one major disappointment for many people, however, is that no member of the Royal family will attend the show this year.

The Queen Mother had been due to make an appearance, but was forced to cancel the appointment after breaking her collarbone earlier this month.