12 June 1998

Kent livestock man – green pressure forced me out…

By Catherine Hughes

ENVIRONMENTAL pressure has forced the largest lowland livestock producer in the county to leave for Australia and go into the property business instead.

Ian Dance, who runs 405ha (1000 acres) of the Isle of Grain, Kent, is giving up the farm that has been in his family for generations because he claims that environmental farming cannot pay if his livestock is making a loss.

Local MP Paul Clark, along with fellow Labour politicians Chris Pond and Bob Marshall-Andrews, visited the farm this week to see the value of carefully managed.

Sue Scott, spokeswoman for the NFU, which organised the visit with the Kent Wildlife Trust, said financial pressure on the beef and sheep industry would force many farmers to leave the land.

"Without grazing by lowland cattle and sheep, many of the wildlife species indigenous to lowland Britain will be at risk."

Mr Dance admitted that he could not turn his back on farming for ever. "I will have to farm some land in Australia. I cannot give it up completely," he said.

But he believes that when the farm goes on sale, existing farmers will have to take over his land to provide summer grazing for young stock rather than produce from it like he had. "Nor will it be invested in," he added. "It will just become a part of a bigger unit."

Mr Dance said the land would have to continue to be farmed environmentally as it lay in an site of special scientific interest and an environmentally sensitive area, meaning there were restrictions both on stocking density and fertiliser input.

But, with losses over the past two years and even lower returns predicted in the coming 12 months from his 120 sucklers and 520 ewes, Mr Dance said he had no choice but to leave.

"I have had the stuffing knocked out of me over the BSE issue. And farming environmentally is not an option unless the CAP budget favours it," he said.

Ian Dance:Packing up and heading for Australia this autumn.