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Wednesday, 4 March, 1998, 18:23 GMT
BSE and strong pound create farming crisis
Welsh farmers
Farmers have found their incomes hard hit and are becoming increasingly militant
British agriculture is in crisis with incomes dramatically reduced and depressed farmers resorting to suicide as their businesses stagger under the burden of the beef crisis and a strong pound.

Cattle farmers have been hit particularly hard, since scientists reported that BSE in cattle could be transmitted to humans and cause the brain disease CJD.

Large numbers of British cattle were found to be infected with BSE and under pressure from the European Union the Government agreed to slaughter all affected cattle - which caused huge losses to farmers.

After years of frustration, emotions boiled over last December, and the Agriculture Minister, Jack Cunningham, was pelted with eggs and flour by angry farmers in Carlisle.

The same month, hundreds of Welsh farmers blockaded the port of Holyhead and threw Irish burgers into the sea in protest at cheap beef imports.

There was a similar demonstration by farmers at Millbay docks in Plymouth.

The strong pound is boosting cheap imports of beef from abroad, in particular from the Irish Republic.

Many farmers say they have been unable to sell their cattle as a result.

The National Farmers Union, which is attending Sunday's rally to promote its Keep Britain Farming campaign, is calling on the government to apply for EU "agri-money" compensation which Irish and French farmers have already received.

A spokeswoman says: "Because of the impact of a strong pound last year and the ongoing BSE crisis farm incomes dropped by up to 47% across the country.

Devastating impact on farmers

"It has had a devastating impact on many farmers' businesses."

She says farmers want Mr Cunningham to do more to help them and she pointed out Britain was virtually the only EU country which had not applied for the EU funds, which are meant for farmers hit by strong currencies.

She says the traditional image of British farmers as wealthy, rather plump fellows who drive around in brand new Range Rovers and go on expensive holidays is mistaken.

Farmers with placards
Frustrated farmers find cheap foreign produce undercutting their goods
"The reality for a livestock farmer is that the value of his livestock has halved. If they have a farm to run, a family to maintain and a lot of workers to pay they are going to find it very difficult.

Redundancies are last resort

"Many farmers are reluctant to lay off staff and that will usually be an absolutely last resort because they know what the jobs situation is like in the countryside.

"Instead they cut back on equipment and if you ask tractor and fertiliser producers they will tell you that orders are down."

The NFU is trying to encourage people in this country to buy British beef, dairy produce, vegetables and other meats instead of foreign goods which may be cheaper in the supermarkets.

Robert Fox is a land agent who leases county council-owned farms in Gloucestershire.

He says several farm leases have come on the market recently as farmers retire or pack up for whatever reason and he says they are having to be much stricter on analysing the viability of those who want to take them on.

But Mr Fox says: "The demand is still there and many of these young farmers who want to take on farms take the attitude that the current crisis is temporary."

Nanny state

Jeremy Chamberlayne has a farm in Maisemore, near Gloucester, and he and his wife Val will be at the march on Sunday.

He says: "I'm going for two reasons. I'm not a hunting or shooting person but I'm against banning things which smacks of the nanny state.

"I also want the government to cut the amount of bureaucratic interference in farming and properly compensate us for the effects of the strong pound."

Last winter he was getting 100 a ton for grain. This year it is down to 70 per ton.

Mr Chamberlayne, who points out he drives a "clapped out" Lancia Delta, concludes by saying: "I've got a son who's in farming but although he does a good job he is the least well off of my four children. None of the others have jobs in agriculture."


Hampshire farmer George Atkinson describes a day down on the farm (3'43")
See also:

30 Jul 98 | Science/Nature
26 Jan 98 | UK
04 Mar 98 | countryside
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