BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Audio/Video: Programmes: Panorama
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

British cows
Farming in decline

The EU spends 37 billion per annum on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This is 41% of the total EU budget.

The UK receives 3 billion per annum from the EU. In addition, UK farming receives 800 million in direct domestic support.

Farmers receive subsidies from CAP based on quotas defined by the European Union.

Sheep quotas explained

Farmers must keep accurate records of their flocks
Farmers get subsidies for each head of breeding ewe they have. To prevent over-production a limit was set on the number of sheep they can claim subsidies for.

The Quota System was introduced in 1993 and each farmer was given an allocation based on the number of sheep they had been claiming subsidies for in 1991. Farmers must keep accurate records of their flocks to prove they have got the same number of sheep on their land as the number they have got quotas for.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (MAFF) police the system. They send inspectors out to farms to make sure the numbers are correct.

System abuse

There is a market for quotas whereby farmers can lease, buy or sell their quotas. This means farmers can expand or contract the number of sheep they keep. It is feared that some farmers abuse the quota system by claiming to keep more sheep than they have.

A slaughtered cow is disinfected
Foot-and-mouth quickly spread across the UK
It is alleged that some farmers hire sheep or buy them from dealers on the black market to dupe any MAFF inspectors who may call. These sheep bought to make up quotas are known as black sheep and the practice is called 'Bed and Breakfasting'.

There are suspicions that this is how Foot-and-mouth spread so widely as dealers bought sheep secretly and then dropped them off at farms across the country. Traceability has been an issue throughout the crisis and there are talks of introducing sheep passports to monitor animal movements.

Industry in decline

Despite the vast sums of money spent supporting the farming industry, it is in severe decline. Farm income in the UK has fallen by over 50% in the last five years.

In 1939, 4.5% of the country's workforce was in the farming industry. By 2000 this had fallen to 1.3%. In the last 2 years one third of the UK's 150,000 farmers have quit.

Farming in Decline Figures

The crisis in farming has been caused by a number of factors. Unfavourable exchange rates, the legacy of BSE and a fall in international commodity prices have combined to drive down prices and drive up costs.

Future of farming

More than a quarter of English farms have some form of non-agricultural income. In future, it is argued that farmers should be paid to provide something that is not food.

Last year the Government announced a 1.6 billion seven-year programme, which is about how to perform this. 'The England Rural Development Plan' calls for a change from producing food to protecting the environment.

Some experts say that the future of farming is big massive farms that operate on the world market. Family farmers should rely on money from alternative incomes to fund their farming and upland hill farmers should be paid to be park keepers of our countryside.

See Also:

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Panorama stories