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Tuesday, 10 April, 2001, 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK
Starting over down under
Farmer Raymond Hinchcliffe
The future's bright: Ray Hinchliffe ponders his new life
Will the foot-and-mouth crisis trigger an exodus of farmers from the UK hoping to start a new life overseas? A farmer who is about to emigrate to Australia, talks to BBC News Online about what prompted his decision to leave the UK for good.

When the foot-and-mouth crisis struck, Yorkshire farmer Raymond Hinchliffe breathed a sigh of relief.

Six months ago he sold his 550 ewes and 700 lambs in preparation for a new life in Australia. When the virus started to spread he no longer had any of his own livestock left to worry about.

"I'm very glad I'm out of that now," he says. "We know it's not going to happen to us personally - but it's still not a very nice thought."

We were finding it difficult to make any sort of living, never mind a decent living

Raymond Hinchliffe
Mr Hinchliffe, 41, has not entirely escaped the long reach of the virus. His family's emigration plans depend on managing to sell their farmhouse and last 100 acres of land. There are few prospective buyers in the current climate. They have had to put their plans on hold for at least another six months.

"The market for farmland is just not there at the moment. There's not a lot of interest at all. I can't see it picking up really until the autumn and everything has died down," he says.

Mr Hinchliffe has been farming for more than 20 years. The decision to emigrate was not an easy one.

He and his wife Tina, children Amy, 11 and Fraser, 6, finally decided to make the move 18 months ago. The foot-and-mouth crisis has only confirmed their determination that life would be better elsewhere.

"We were finding it difficult to make any sort of living, never mind a decent living," he says.

Bad times

"I've seen a lull before when the price of land has crashed, but never when everyone is losing so much enthusiasm and not seeing an end to it. The last three or four years have really been very difficult."

"The price of land here is so expensive that it is just too expensive to consider buying it to expand.

Farmer Raymond Hinchliffe
Up for sale: On the family farm in Cumberworth, West Yorkshire
"We also hear 'diversify, diversify'. Well, I want to be a farmer - I don't want to have a caravan park or other things. That's why I want to go to Australia - I want to go where there is the opportunity and where I still can farm."

His decision was also partly prompted by what he sees as the complicated system of EU subsidies.

"There's all the red tape and aggravation that we get with pen pushing all the time rather than farming.

"We are perhaps featherbedded to some extent, but without the subsidies I just wouldn't be in business."

Making the move

Mr Hinchliffe isn't sure that the foot-and-mouth crisis will have legions of farmers packing their bags and heading for sunnier climes.

After foot-and-mouth there is no doubt there will be a significant proportion of farmers... thinking 'what shall I do next?'

Phil Benion
"It's a big thing to up sticks," he says.

"But I think it will prompt some people to give up farming altogether especially if the have lost all their stock."

Phil Benion of the agency Four Corners Emigration, says he expects to hear from farmers looking for a new start as soon as the current crisis abates.

"After foot-and-mouth there is no doubt there will be a significant proportion of farmers who will be looking around - not having a significant business - thinking 'what shall I do next?'"

And, he says, farmers can be in a strong position. Last year he toured the UK with a state agency from Manitoba in Canada and helped to encourage a number of pig farmers to sell-up and emigrate.

"Somebody who sells prime real estate in the UK and moves to New Zealand or Canada can get far in excess of what they could afford here."

Visions of the future

"People have visions of these countries - they know New Zealand is very green and good for dairy farming and Canada is known for its large arable farms. There is interest in Tasmania too - as the climate is very similar to the UK," he says.

But emigrating is a lengthy process and requires a lot of planning.

I'm not saying things will be all rosy once we get over there, because they won't

Raymond Hinchliffe
"It's taken us about 12 months in all and quite a bit of that has been waiting for the Australian government to say 'yes' or 'no'," says Mr Hinchliffe.

He and his family hope to be in Australia in time for Christmas. They plan to purchase a 4,000-acre property - more than 10 times larger than their old farm in Yorkshire - where they will grow cereal crops and farm either sheep or cattle.

Mr Hinchliffe can hardly wait - and the rest of his family is excited too.

"My son more or less talks about it everyday," he says.

"I'm not saying things will be all rosy once we get over there, because they won't. But we think the opportunity is there."

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