26 April 2001
Farmers plan to quit or scale down
By Johann Tasker
ALMOST half the farmers hit by foot-and-mouth disease plan to quit farming or scale down their businesses, a FARMERS WEEKLY survey can reveal.
Some 6% of farmers with a case of foot-and-mouth expect to give up farming altogether – three times the percentage which leave the industry in a normal year.
More than one-third will only partially restock their farms. Fewer than half expect their businesses to recover in the near future.
The survey, which was conducted over the past week, provides the first glimpse of farmers expectations in the wake of foot-and-mouth.
Many producers believe the crisis is a watershed for British farming. In some cases, fields will remain empty as farmers shut down unprofitable enterprises.
Cumbrian farmer Kenneth Chalmers, whose livestock was slaughtered last month plans to give up rearing beef and concentrate instead on his dairy herd.
He believed farming would become more environmental. “Farming policy may favour small farms that help the environment and are self-sufficient.”
Martin Howarth, policy director for the National Farmers Union, said ministers should sit down with farm leaders to help manage any changes.
He said: “The best thing that could happen is for the government and the industry to come up with a blue-print for the future to help farmers recover.”
Wildlife could be boosted by lower stocking densities.
Mark Avery, RSPB director of conservation, said: “Livestock will always be an important part of upland farming but this is an opportunity to do things better.”
He added: “The government should be thinking quite ambitiously about different forms of farm support.”
Although signs are growing that the crisis is waning, the FW survey shows that the fall-out from the epidemic is likely to last for years.
Almost one in 10 farmers said their businesses would never recover. Only one third believed they would recover within five years.
Many producers praised the actions of local vets. But 79% said ministers had let them down, failed to keep up with events and with-held information.
Staffordshire beef and sheep farmer Jane Sargeant, who also manages a family-run abattoir, said: “The vets locally have been second to none.
“But ministers panicked and their dithering has set British meat back 10 years. Theyve turned it into a complete disaster.”
Foot-and-mouth – confirmed outbreaks
Foot-and-mouth – FWi coverage