OPTIMISM STILL REIGNS IN ARABLE SECTOR

Surprisingly perhaps, those who consider their fortunes worse than when they were featured on the pages of Farmers Weekly are outnumbered three to one by those who say things are at least as good or better.

Business fortunes chartThat same ratio is reflected in their view of the future, with nearly half saying they remain optimistic. Only three have stopped farming.

John Bradshaw, who now rents out his farm, provides a claims and replacement vehicle service to taxi and private hire drivers.

Managers David Mercer (1992 South) and Stuart Knight (2001 East) are understood to have left agriculture.

So how do the rest assess the state of their businesses right now?

Jim Goddard makes the telling point that in 1991 fuel cost 10p/litre and wheat made £100/t. “Now fuel is 36p/litre and wheat is £62/t.”

Despite working harder Brian Shaw finds profitability dropping, and Robert Stevenson reckons he and brother Allan are “running faster to hold our own.”

“We’re working much harder to stay still,” adds Keith Snowball.

But others are more positive.

Charlie Edgley says that expanding the area farmed and changing cropping policy has definitely helped his fortunes. “But the world is so volatile I find it hard to think too far ahead.”

John Best believes a good SFP and a reduction in labour and livestock will sustain his business until the farming climate improves.

For Simon Porter the recipe has been to spread overheads further and increase non-farm income.

Jamie Rogers says hiring out redundant potato barns for commercial storage together with the fabrics shop, which he runs with his wife, have brought the chance for growth and stability.

Putting more grass down and moving into sheep has stopped the decline in income for Eric Haggart, and trading in potatoes rather than growing them has cut risk and hassle for Mark Mc Ferran.

EXPANSION IS SIGN OF THE TIMES

What area pieMore than half our respondents are farming more land than they did in 1991, with only four looking after less. Indeed Richard Burt estimates that his area has expanded ten-fold, and Keith Snowball reports doing much more contract work.

“We’re up from 300ha to 800ha – all continuous milling wheat,” says Charlie Edgley.

“We’ve bought a neighbouring farm and a block of land 10 miles away,” adds Les Anderson.

But for Nick Davidson there has been a partnership split to accommodate two families, each taking two farms. And Andrew Cooke has dropped potatoes and is farming 50% less overall.

“There’s no point in being a busy fool,” he says. “Farming is in the slow lane, stuck in recession, and I’m not going to wait 10 years for it to start to improve.”

Ian Brown has given up all his arable fields to concentrate on willow production, his woodland and conservation areas and business park and property.

And Brian Shaw believes that unless rents of contract farming rent equivalents drop, he may also reduce his farmed area.