22 December 2000

MAFFtight-lipped as job

losses climb to 23,800

By Isabel Davies

MAFF has refused to comment on how many more jobs must be lost from farming after figures showed that almost 24,000 people left the industry last year.

The government confirmed on Monday (Dec 18) that 23,800 farmers and workers in England left farming in the year to June. The losses are equivalent to more than 450 workers leaving the industry each week. It brings total job losses over the past two years to 41,100.

The figures, from the June census, show a drop of 22,500 in the number of full-time, part-time and casual workers. The number of full-time farmers also fell although the drop of 4000 was offset by a 2800 increase in the number of part-time farmers. This is a trend that suggests producers are seeking new ways to boost their incomes.

But a MAFF spokesman said the government was not prepared to speculate on how many more jobs must go before restructuring is completed. "To start setting arbitrary targets of jobs that have got to be lost would be unhelpful."

NFU president Ben Gill said the statistics showed the biggest exodus in living memory which was a dire reflection of the state of agriculture. "The crisis has cut so deeply into the heart of farming in this country that, in spite of the survival instincts of our farmers, many simply cannot carry on."

Mr Gill called for the government to act on issues like sterling and the regulatory burden in order to stop the haemorrhaging of jobs and skills. "It is small wonder that the ethos of working longer for less is crippling the industry, raising stress levels on the farm and forcing more and more people out of the industry at an alarming rate."

Tim Yeo, agriculture spokesman for the opposition said the extent of the losses was devastating for the industry and would severely affect morale. The fact that government had failed to make a statement about the losses was appalling, he argued.

"When 24,000 jobs are lost in the countryside, Labour shrugs its shoulders and turns its back on the men and women whose livelihoods have been destroyed."

Liberal Democrat farm spokesman Colin Breed said it was a situation that could not carry on. The huge net loss of farm employment was down to a lack of new entrants as well as a mass exodus, he said, adding: "Given the current state of farming it is small wonder entrants are unable to make viable business cases for new farm enterprises

George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association said he was concerned about the burden being placed on those left in the industry. "More and more I have conversations with people who express concern about the time and effort their spouses are putting into the farm. There are tensions and problems being created by this process."

Statistics show more farmers have part-time jobs. Bill Gower of Herstmonceux, Sussex, earns £5.50/hr working as Santa in a tourist attraction.