Plea for help as 50,000 quit farming


2 July 2001



Plea for help as 50,000 quit farming

By Alistair Driver

THE National Farmers Union is pleading for emergency help after revealing that 51,000 jobs were lost from farming during the past two years.

NFU president Ben Gill warned that thousands more jobs will be lost unless the government helps the industry recover from foot-and-mouth disease.

The crisis had rocked an industry already at its lowest ebb for the past 60 years, he said during an annual update on the state of British farming.

Mr Gills “state of the industry” report would normally be made at the Royal Show, which would have started this week were it not for foot-and-mouth.

Instead, the special briefing was held in London.

“We are half-way through the year, and what a disaster it has been so far,” Mr Gill told journalists on Monday (2 July).

“At the Royal Show last year we thought things were bad. But foot-and-mouth has taken us out of the frying pan and into the blast-furnace.”

Average farmer earnings have fallen to just 5200 a year, said Mr Gill.

Foot-and-mouth has prompted many farmers to re-think their futures and the government should come up with an emergency recovery programme, he added.

The NFU claims that income from farming is 3 billion less than it was five years ago, at 1.88bn. Borrowings have reach a new high of more than 10bn.

But Mr Gill said it was unlikely that the government would introduce an early retirement scheme to help producers leave the industry with dignity.

It had become evident during discussions with the government that there would be huge problems over funding for such as scheme, he added.

“Too many people would want to use it.”

Nevertheless, there would be major changes in the way farmers operate, said Mr Gill. The union would help make the industry more market-oriented.

Mr Gill was more positive about the prospects of a government-run “out-goers” scheme which would require a downsizing of the industry.

“We are considering all the options,” said Mr Gill. “There might be a contraction of one part of the industry and an expansion of others.”

An out-goers scheme could reduce the number of sheep farmers in the hills, but increase the number of cattle farmers in lowland areas, he added.

Mr Gill called on the government to tighten import controls to prevent a re-run of foot-and-mouth, which has been blamed on imports of infected meat.

And he warned that the situation was just as bad for arable farmers. Floods last autumn meant this years grain harvest could be down by 1m tonnes.

The government should pay 34m in “agrimoney” compensation from Brussels to offset the devaluation of subsidies due to the weak Euro.

Mr Gill also called for emergency measures for the sheep sector to cope with the disappearance of the export market due to foot-and-mouth.

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