21 June 2002

No confidence means an extra 20,000 to quit?

By Isabel Davies

INDUSTRY leaders have warned that another 20,000 farmers could leave the industry this year because they have no confidence in the future.

The NFU has said there is no reason to believe the mass exodus of people from the farming industry has slowed in recent months.

Nearly 60,000 farmers and farm workers lost their jobs in the three years to June 2001.

The admission came as NFU president, Ben Gill, made an appeal to the government to assist the industry in next months Comprehensive Spending Review.

Mr Gill told a briefing in London on June 18 that never before had he experienced a time when so many people were questioning their future and the governments commitment to the industry. "All our anecdotal evidence suggests that further large numbers of farmers and growers are going to quit the industry, either because they have to or because they see no future," he said.

Mr Gill called for a changed approach from government and financial assistance from the spending review.

The government should come forward with funding for a "broad and shallow" scheme to enable more farmers to be paid for carrying out agri-environmental measures, he said.

It must also pay for the development of electronic ID for sheep and keep paying for cattle passports beyond next year.

Sufficient resources also had to be made available for research and development and to help farmers find ways to develop renewable products from plants, said Mr Gill.

The government had a responsibility to provide funding which would allow a framework to be put in place which would let the industry move back to profitability, he said.

"We need a change in attitude where you see the government as a promoter which seeks to incite entrepreneurial flair not just to the benefit of farmers, but the benefit of the whole community.

"We are not wanting an open ended commitment to money, but we want a commitment to a changed approach," he said.

The farming industry has decided it is a critical time to make representations because the CSR is winding up to its conclusion.

The Country Land and Business Association has written to MPs from all parties looking for help to persuade the government to come up with the £500m needed to fund the Curry report in full.

Sir Edward Greenwell, CLA president, said it came down to a choice between breathing new life into the countryside and irrevocable decline.

"The countryside, the rural economy and agriculture will all suffer if funding is not found in the imminent Comprehensive Spending Review," he said.

Worrying times… Ben Gill faces questions of confidence – on the future of UK farming and his leadership.