14 June 2002

Optimism makes a return

Despite the difficulties of

making a living from

agriculture, farmers in

East Anglia are fighting on

and pushing into new

markets to carve out a

living. David Green reports

THE results of two new surveys suggest that many farmers in East Anglia are optimistic about the future, despite the current agricultural recession.

However, while one survey showed great interest in diversification, the other showed a majority in favour of expanding existing farm operations.

Brown and Co, chartered surveyors, asked farmers in the region to indicate whether they were interested in expansion or diversification.

Most of the 101 respondents regarded further agricultural expansion as their means of escaping from the current slump affecting the industry.

And 90% of those interested in expansion would like to farm between 120 and 202 additional hectares (300 and 500 acres) to spread fixed costs. The same level of expansion was even being discussed on existing farms of less than 202ha (500 acres).

However, a survey by Neil Ridley, of Otley College, near Ipswich, into farmers attitudes to the changing business environment found that 86% of those questioned had plans to diversify from their core business.

When Mr Ridley, a lecturer in the colleges agricultural department, questioned 102 farmers all over Suffolk he discovered a great deal of optimism.

Although only 19% believed crop prices would increase significantly in the next two years, 90% said they still enjoyed their work and a similar percentage thought they would still be in the industry in five years time.

And 64% said they planned to co-operate more in the next two years, partly by sharing labour and machinery.

Mr Ridley is not surprised by the survey results. "Farmers have a habit of portraying doom and gloom when you talk to them but in their hearts they often remain optimistic." &#42

EASTANGLIAFARMINGFACTS

Counties Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambs, Essex and Lincs excluding north.

Agricultural land area 1.77m ha (4.37m acres). About 75% of ground is arable, cropped with mainly cereals and horticultural crops.

Farm statistics 19,744 farms support 61,752 workers. About 67% of farms are owner occupied.

Livestock Cattle and calf population 306,290 – only about 5% of Englands total; 553,164 sheep and lambs with a breeding flock of 264,502; total pig herd 1.6m – about 30% of Englands pigs; total poultry flock about 23m birds.

Arable area Cereals account for 889,752ha (2.2m acres), with potatoes occupying another 54,047 (174,314 acres).

Horticulture area Largest in England at 70,544ha (174,314 acres). Just over half of this figure is accounted for with vegetable and salad crops grown in the open, excluding potatoes, peas and beans.

Source: DEFRA June 2000 census. Latest figures available.