27 July 2001

Penury, not recovery…

The massive funeral pyres lit in the first weeks of the foot-and-mouth outbreak may have

dimmed to a faint glow in the publics memory, but farmers across the country have seen their

businesses reduced to ashes. This special focus outlines ways to help producers plan and

rebuild for a brighter future. Better compensation for thousands of farmers would be a

welcome start, as Jeremy Hunt discovered

ALMOSTsix months after the start of the foot-and-mouth crisis, the prolonged tail-end of the epidemic continues to cause severe financial hardship to farm businesses hit by the disease, says Cumbria land agent Miles MacInness.

Although the industry is supposed to be entering the so-called recovery period, many farmers are now feeling the greatest impact on their businessessays Mr MacInness, of Penrith-based Clark Scott-Harden.

"Thousands of farmers have no idea when they can start up in business again. It was bad enough facing the trauma of losing stock through F&M, but as the disease drags on farmers are faced with no income and are being forced to live off their compensation."

Several weeks ago, CSH launched a scheme to alert the government to the financial hardship being faced by farmers.

It wrote to the owners of all infected premises in the north of England. Those who responded and felt they had a financial claim against the government for losses caused by F&M were then sent a questionnaire.

CSH is expecting about 200 replies over the coming weeks. Replies received so far express concern over lost interest caused by delayed compensation payments, lower level compensation payments made in the early part of the epidemic and consequential losses.

Midlands agent Carver Knowles is embarking on a similar scheme in the midlands and south-west, while CSH intends to circulate farmers in Dumfries and Galloway in the coming weeks.

All completed questionnaires are being processed by Bristol solicitors Burges Salmon. The firm will make an individual claim to the Parliamentary Ombudsman on behalf of each farmer.

CSH also intends to produce a report based on all the information gathered through the scheme, which will also be sent to the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

"We want a full public inquiry into the F&M crisis and we believe our report will convince the Ombudsman of the gravity of the situation," says Mr MacInness.

"We hope he will look favourably on these claims and recommend to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that some financial help be made available to compensate farmers above and beyond payments made for the loss of their stock."

Mr MacInness is concerned the government has failed to acknowledge that many farmers have been out of business for six months and face the prospect of not being able to restart their businesses until F&M is eradicated.

"As the weeks pass, the consequential losses being suffered are having an even greater impact on businesses than the trauma of losing stock during the height of the outbreak," he says.

"We hope our initiative will highlight the plight of farmers who are being deprived of earning any income. If cash was made available in regional recovery funds it would at least allow farms to tick over without having to eat into compensation.

"It is a tragedy that farmers could be prevented from undertaking swift and efficient re-stocking programmes when given the green light because they have been forced to live off compensation payments." &#42