FCN calls for industry-wide plan to cut farmer poverty

A leading rural charity is calling on farming bodies, businesses and organisations to work together to help farming families out of poverty.

The Farm Crisis Network claims that, while government is finally recognising the strategic importance of food production and the future is positive for many farm businesses, one in four are living on or below the poverty line.

“Even taking into account the sensible view that unviable businesses should be allowed to fail so that young skilled people can start new businesses in their place, the fact that a quarter of farm businesses are failing financially is not compatible with food security or a golden future,” says Reverend Sarah Brown, FCN’s executive director.

“And setting aside the business/strategic aspects, is it not a moral and ethical outrage that as a community we are prepared to shrug off the hardship of so many, yet still consider ourselves a success story in the making?

“After years of trying to relieve the problem unilaterally or in partnership with other charities, it is time for everyone to put their minds to it, to and see if as an industry we might find a solution,” she adds.

The problems in agriculture are not simply a result of the recession, she says. “They are the result of the cumulative effects of floods and livestock diseases since 2001, plus decades of government neglect coupled with the imposition of costly and bureaucratic regulatory systems.

“Those who can afford representation or professional advice are well catered for – but what about the others?

“In collaboration with the other farming charities and a few generous and altruistic professionals, we have many success stories where people have diversified, retrained, and/or come out of the business and have some kind of financial future. But there are countless others who would like to retire and cannot do so because of crippling debt and others who could become flourishing farm businesses again with the right help to turn the business around.”

The problem, says Sarah, is that for the most hard-up there is no consistent access to the right kind of advice.

“They don’t need professional advice from any organisation with a profit motive that comes before the best interests of the farmer, or to whom the farmer owes money. They cannot afford to pay for impartial advice from an independent consultant. While there are some solutions from excellent organisations such as Business Link, these tend to be short term, when what is really needed is long term advice and ‘handholding’ to see the problem worked through.

“Consumer credit and debt solution providers can generally not cope with the entanglement of domestic and business affairs so characteristic of many farm businesses and are generally not able to help in a situation where unpredictable cash flow makes an off-the-shelf solution unworkable.”

The FCN now wants the industry to collective take responsibility and put in place solutions to help families out of poverty, perhaps by providing free access to the best possible support and advice.

* Contact her with your ideas at mail@fcn.org.uk or ring 01788 510866 or have your say and post your ideas for helping cut farmer poverty in our forum.