29 November 2001
Milk and veg boost farm incomes

By Alistair Driver

BETTER milk and vegetable prices are responsible for a predicted increase in farm incomes, say government officials.

Despite dire problems faced by the livestock and arable sectors, farm incomes are forecast to rise by 17% to 8267 per person in 2001.

Total income from farming will be 1.8 billion, said the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Thursday (29 November).

This follows a record low of 1.57bn – 7100/person – in 2000, and is 71% below the 1995 level of over 5bn, about 24,000/person.

“Increased prices for milk and vegetables, particularly potatoes, are largely responsible for the increase,” said a Defra official.

Farmgate milk prices are up an average of 15% on last year, he added.

Potato producers enjoyed prices twice 2000 levels in the first half of this year, although this was largely due to the effect of wet autumn weather.

But things have got bleaker for many farmers in 2001, particularly those hit by foot-and-mouth and arable producers, the official added.

“Foot-and-mouth has impacted on volumes produced and, with the export ban and closure of markets, has had a negative price effect.”

The figures do not take into account the expected 1.4bn farmers will receive in foot-and-mouth compensation payments.

But the official said this would to be “to some extent” balanced out by the capital losses caused by slaughtered livestock.

Separate figures for England show that another 5600 people – 1.5% of the workforce – left the industry in the year to June 2001.

The Defra official said the continuing impact of foot-and-mouth could lead to many more job losses in the second half of the year.

National Farmers Union president Ben Gill said the average farm income of 8267 is way below the minimum wage.

He expressed hope that incomes had finally bottomed out and that the tide of job losses will be stemmed.

Nearly 64,000 jobs have been lost in England since 1997, said Mr Gill. “The industry had hit rock bottom – so the only way has been up.”

Only cost-cutting and efficiency gains enabled farmers to hold their ground, because foot-and-mouth and the poor harvest severely damaged earnings.

“At the end of the day, farmers are still working far longer than the average working week and taking home far less than even the minimum wage.”