7 August 2001
Think twice before restocking: DEFRA

By FWi staff

FARMERS who lost animals to foot-and-mouth disease have been told at a government-arranged conference to think twice before restocking their farms.

The conference, at Hatherley Manor Hotel, near Gloucester, was called by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

About 100 farmers heard from keynote speaker Ian Ball, a senior agricultural advisor from the Rural Development Service.

Mr Ball told delegates that the government had already paid out a total of 95 million in compensation to local farmers whose animals had been culled.

And he appeared to underline advice that farmers – certainly the older ones – should consider getting out while the going is still fair, financially at least.

Mr Ball said: “Fifty per cent of farmers are currently in excess of 50 years old. So the glass is half-full rather than half-empty.

“The younger farmers can adapt to new practices to take themselves forward,” he said. But older farmers should consider an “exit strategy”.

Mr Ball told delegates that said government compensation “has made retirement possible for farm businesses.”

He also warned that exposure to world market prices would create an increasingly difficult situation for livestock farmers determined to continue.

But Anthony Gibson, National Farmers Union regional director for south-west England, called for a “full public and independent inquiry” into the crisis.

One of the aims of such an inquiry should be to clear up possible mistakes made and the “media storm” that has surrounded it, he said.

“You all have been living a nightmare over the past months.

“The farming world has changed forever. This is an opportunity to think about what you could be doing.”

Mr Gibson also described what he called an insensitive “media storm” that had, of late, degraded the real suffering of farmers.

“As soon as we have a full public and independent inquiry to call Whitehall ministers and even people from the farming community to account the better.”

David King, a 64-year-old livestock farmer said agriculture had changed forever. “It will never be the same. it will be like the mines and steel works.”

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