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Farming in crisis Wednesday, 15 September, 1999, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
Grain farmer sees the bright side
Adrian Peck's farm
Scotland Farm: In the Peck family for three generations
Adrian Peck is optimistic. He says if he "watches his pennies" there is a profitable future for him and his family in arable farming.

Farming in crisis
When you look at the facts you cannot help but be impressed by his positive attitude and his ability to move with changing times.

The income from Mr Peck's 1,500 acre farm in Cambridgeshire has dropped by a quarter in the last three years. Prices and subsidies are continuing to fall and the strong pound has ruined the export market.

Mr Peck says the British government is not protecting the country's agricultural heritage or fighting for its future. He quotes the suicide rate among British farmers. One a week.

Change or die

So what is Mr Peck's response to this tale of depression and economic gloom?

Restructure, he says. Invest and expand.

Scotland Farm has been in the Peck family for three generations, but his grandfather would not recognise the old place now.

In the last couple of years the farm has doubled in size and is now a lean, fast, multi-faceted business headed by a man with an eye on scientific developments and an ear to the political ground.

Adrian Peck
Adrian Peck: A man of faith
"It doesn't matter whether a farm is large or small," says Mr Peck, "If it's inefficient it won't survive."

Mr Peck employs a part-time secretary to help him cope with the plethora of facts, files and forms that descend on his office from London and Brussels.

He has invested in a new state of the art ploughing tractor, which is 30% more efficient than the old two put together. And his new high-speed trailers have cut the journey times between field and grain store. Two of his workers have retired and not been been replaced.

UK's handicaps

The goal is to shave as many pounds as possible off the cost of producing a ton of grain. In 1996 a ton of wheat would sell for 105. The current price is around 70 a ton. It is the same story with malting barley. The price has dropped from 140 a ton to 79 in three years.

No matter how efficiently Mr Peck farms his land, he knows he cannot compete on the world market with the prairie farms of America and Australia.

In this country the farmer has a managed countryside to look after. He cannot rip up the hedgerows to create massive fields. Neither can he produce genetically modified crops. Yet.

"This issue is fraught with difficulties," says Mr peck, "and GM crops are not going to happen here unless the British customer is absolutely satisfied that there is nothing to worry about. But maybe this is the way we will go."

Mr Peck is open minded about GM crops and frustrated by what he calls the ill-informed adverse publicity. He says farmers have been modifying crops for years and this is just the next phase.

Underlying optimism

Another factor, which makes Mr Peck feel the hard work and investment are worthwhile, is his son's decision to join him full time at Scotland farm.

James Peck is 23 and has just finished five years at Writtle agricultural college. The trend is for young people to abandon farming because of falling incomes and the lack of stability. But farming is in James' blood and he agrees with his father's modernising policies.

Adrian and James have their eyes on the future. But what about this year? Two weeks of rain just before the harvest reduced the quality of the crops but the yields on Scotland Farm are "fantastic", according to Adrian.

If the prices do not fall too steeply because of the rain damage, 1999 will prove to be a reasonable year for the Peck family. They admit they need quite a few reasonable years to pay for the recent investment and expansion.

Mr Peck says that although arable farmers are lucky compared to the "livestock boys", everyone is having an incredibly difficult time at the moment.

"Yes, I'm optimistic," he says, "although I don't necessarily believe that it's all going to come right in the end for everyone. But I'm optimistic that I've got my part right."

Countryfile is on BBC1 at 1130 GMT on Sundays.

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BBC1's Countryfile finds Adrian Peck in optimistic mood
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