21 September 2001

Use compensation to get

out, F&Mvictims urged

By FWreporters

DAIRY farmers have been urged to use foot-and-mouth compensation to quit the industry amid predictions that one in two producers will be forced out of business within 10 years.

Tory MP David Curry, chairman of the House of Commons rural affairs select committee, said some farmers should use payments to retire with dignity. "Foot-and-mouth compensation offers a better pay-off than any other form of exit from the industry. If some producers dont take it then they will be acting against their best interests."

Mr Curry made his comments during a seminar at the annual industry showcase Dairy Event on Wednesday (Sept 19). Cows were notable by their absence at the National Agricultural Centre showground after the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) banned livestock due to F&M.

RABDF chairman Tim Brigstocke forecast that the number of UK milk producers would halve within 10 years. Those left would have to "accept a few home truths" and produce milk without subsidy or quotas, he added. Some 10,000-15,000 dairy farmers will quit, said Mr Brigstocke, leaving only 15-18,000 milk producers by 2010.

The sector would re-structure around three different groups, he said. "First there will be full-time, high output, very efficient producers with close links to the food chain. Second, there will be part-time dairy farmers producing niche products. And third there will be hobby farmers of one form or another."

Environmental restraints, particularly regarding muck handling, mean 1000 cow units are unlikely to become common, Mr Brigstocke predicted. But many producers must change their way of thinking if they are to survive. Unless farmers act, their future will be determined by non-farming pressure groups, he said.

"Let us be in no doubt too that the case we put forward must be based on the political, economic and public interest realities we so clearly face. The over-my-dead body approach to change taken by many before the introduction of quotas is simply not an option.

Mr Brigstocke acknowledged that stricter market conditions would not be a particularly heart-warming prospect for most of the industry. But he added: "It is a challenge which, given the right assistance and support, I have no doubt British dairy farming will rise to admirably."

The association has set up a number of independent think-tanks to investigate the most crucial issues facing milk producers. A group examining milk production without quotas will include up to 10 representatives from throughout the food chain who will be appointed shortly.

NFU president Ben Gill said producers would have to work more closely together with suppliers to build a long-term future. "However they sell their milk they will need to work in collaboration with the rest of the supply chain to provide what the market wants. All they ask is a fair price and fair term &#42

Dairy farmers must reflect on the direction of the industry as the threat of foot-and-mouth recedes, said Mr Gill. "Their aim should be to have the ability and resources to work with the supply chain to increase the size of the market so that there are benefits for all."