7 June 2002

Premium products help shelter islands farmers

By Isabel Davies

THERE may be no abattoir, no market and more horses than dairy cows on the Isle of Wight but its farmers are battling on and finding ways to mitigate the extra costs they face, according to NFU county chairman Chris Clarke.

Arable farmers have sought to offset the extra costs that arise from being surrounded by water by growing premium crops, says Mr Clarke of Cridmore Farm, Chillerton near Newport, who grows 550 acres of arable crops and has 380 outdoor pigs.

Producers are concentrating on more specialist crops such as biscuit wheat and malting barley which give them a better return, he says. "You might as well go for milling wheat as feed wheat as it costs the same per tonne to transport it."

All of Mr Clarkes grain goes to the Isle of Wight Grain Storage Co-operative which he says is vital to the survival of growers on the island. The store takes in around 40,000 tonnes of grain of which about three-quarters is quality wheat. It is then shipped direct to ports in Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Germany.

Producers also face the extra overhead costs of transporting goods onto the island. Mr Clarke estimates this adds about £7/t to his feed bills.

Sadly the sea which surrounds the island doesnt insulate it from the issues facing farmers in the rest of the country, says Mr Clarke.

But he believes his situation could be worse. "It would probably be dearer to get things further down to the west country than it is here," he says. "We are at least closer to markets."

And there are advantages to living on the island, he says. It is TB-free, land is approximately 20% cheaper than elsewhere in the south-east and the popularity of the island as a holiday destination means diversification opportunities are around.

"Tourism sustains a lot of farmers commercially. Many of them have some other interests."

The dramatic decline in the number of dairy farmers is an area of particular concern, he concedes. There are believed to be less than 30 dairy farmers on the island at the moment and Mr Clarke says another five are going this year.

And the lack of a market or abattoir on the island does pose problems. For example, all of Mr Clarkes pigs have to be ferried back to the mainland at 40kg to be finished at a farm in Wiltshire.

But livestock farmers are battling with the issue. The Meat and Livestock Commission has already carried out a feasibility report and farmers are now working to see how this can be taken forward.

"The idea would be that it would be owned by a farmers co-op, hopefully generously funded, and dealing with cattle, sheep and pigs," says Mr Clarke. &#42

Living the island life… NFU county chairman Chris Clarke (left) with his farm manager William Scarratt.

Cropping Total agricultural land area is 24,668ha (60,950 acres). The total cropped area is about 9520ha (23,500 acres). Cereals account for 6444ha (19,900 acres) and 322ha (795 acres) is horticultural crops.

Land tenure Official figures state there are 512 holdings on the IoW, but the NFU estimates there are only half that number of farmers. About 75% of the farms are owner-occupied. The total agricultural labour force is 1464.

Livestock Total cattle and calf population 16,196; total dairy herd 4636 and total beef herd 2376. The number of sheep and lambs on the island amounts to about 34,700 and there are just 4600 pigs on the island. The poultry flock is less than 500.

Source: DEFRA June Census 2000. Latest figures available.