15 December 2000
MAFF charts flight from land

By Isabel Davies and Johann Tasker

THOUSANDS more farmers and their employees have been forced out of the industry, according to annual statistics set to be released by the government.

The figures, due to be released on Monday (18 December), will show another decline in the number of farmers and farmworkers during the year to June 2000.

A Ministry of Agriculture spokesman refused to discuss details before the statistics are published, but confirmed they would show another decline.

The National Farmers Union said it had no reason to change its chilling prediction that more jobs have been lost this year than last.

In the year to June 1999, more than 60 people a day quit farming – a total loss of more than 22,000 jobs from British agriculture.

Farm incomes are still at rock-bottom, the NFU said. But even if the latest figures are half of last years total, they will still embarrass the government.

Just days ago, it revealed that wages across the economy had risen slightly and that the official jobless rate had fallen to its lowest level since 1975.

The most telling point for farmers is likely to be how the government responds to the farming job losses in relation to losses in other sectors.

When Vauxhall announced 2000 redundancies at its Luton car plant, trade secretary Stephen Byers made an emergency statement in the House of Commons.

Mr Byers told MPs that advice on retraining and special loans would be provided for former Luton workers who want to set up their own businesses.

But whether such a scheme is offered to farmworkers remains to be seen.

The number of full-time producers will drop significantly. But a more detailed analysis is likely to reveal that most of the fall is due to farmers laying off staff.

Barry Leathwood, spokesman for agricultural workers in the Transport & General Workers Union, said the MAFF figures should be treated with caution.

It seems that there have been more job losses this year but the situation might not be as bad as it first appears, he told FARMERS WEEKLY.

“One of the things that worried me last year was that we heard that people were leaving farms but then setting themselves up as self-employed contractors.”