Putting a figure on maintenance

2 February 2001

Putting a figure on maintenance

THE average farm in England and Wales contributed £1400 in cash or labour for countryside maintenance and management work in 1998, according to a survey by Exeter Universitys Agricultural Economics Unit.

The report – Whats the damage? A study of farm costs in managing and maintaining the countryside – calculates that the total cost was about £244m. That figure was made up of £137m on countryside maintenance work attributed to labour and machinery costs and £107m on capital works much of which was spent on materials and contractors.

Almost 60% of the total went on field boundaries such as hedges, ditches, walls and banks. Tree and woodland work accounted for another 15% and the rest went on "natural" elements such as ponds and wildlife areas. There was no strong correlation between farm size and the spend on this work.

This study is the first to measure the cost to the farmer of this work, much of which has no direct impact on farm output or the farmers income.

Earlier studies had attempted to assess the value to the public of countryside features in terms of what the countryside would be prepared to pay to have them retained.

Prof John McInerney, who led the research team, says: "It is now becoming an important feature of agricultural policy to encourage farmers to use their land to meet wider environmental objectives. This study highlights what it costs the industry to maintain the countryside as part of normal farming practice. It should add a new perspective to the arguments over agricultures role and provide a valuable input into discussions on the development of agri-environment policies for the 21st century."

The report is available from Exeter University, price £10. &#42

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