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Friday, 27 April, 2001, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
Farmers face 'time of change'
Northampton farmer loads dead sheep on to a truck
Some farmers may decide not to restock their farms
The UK farming industry may emerge radically changed from the foot-and-mouth crisis, with signs that some farmers plan to cut back their businesses.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown acknowledged that foot-and-mouth is likely to be the last straw for some farmers, describing the crisis as a "time of change".

Mr Brown was responding to a survey by Farmers' Weekly magazine that suggested a third of farmers affected by the crisis were planning to scale down their businesses - and some intended to quit altogether.

But the National Farmers' Union (NFU) said changes could be a force for good, with more farmers opting for "quality not quantity".


It obviously is an important time to consider whether to restock and carry on

Nick Brown
Agriculture Minister

Meanwhile, a Cumbrian farm contractor at the centre of fears over human foot-and-mouth is now believed not to have the infection.

The Public Health Laboratory Service revealed on Friday that tests on two people for the illness had proved negative.

Cull worker Paul Stamper was first in line of several people being tested to receive his results.

Counting the cost

Asked about the prospect of farmers quitting the industry, the agriculture minister told BBC News it was "important to remember that the industry is in a time of change anyway".

"Farmers have been through four years of very low returns on their work," he added.

"To have the animals purchased by the state and paid for, it obviously is an important time to consider whether to restock and carry on, or perhaps do something else."

Foot-and-mouth facts
Total number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases in the UK 1,483 - three on Thursday
2,287,000 animals have been slaughtered
152,000 animals awaiting slaughter
NFU president Ben Gill said farming in the future would need to be more market-orientated with closer consumer interaction, and could also play a role in environmental management.

He told BBC News Online there needed to be wider debate over the dramatically different farming industry that would emerge from the crisis.

And he said compensation for slaughtered stock should be combined with an additional early retirement package for farmers wanting to get out.

Liberal Democrat agriculture spokesman Colin Breed said compensation would not be a "long-term answer".


Many farmers we are talking to say this is a unique opportunity for them to rethink their businesses

Martin Howarth
NFU
"A sustained effort across government is now required to develop a long-term plan and assistance for those who do want to carry on," he said.

"For those who do leave agriculture, this crisis must not be seen by the government as an alternative to a properly-structured farmers' early retirement scheme."

Farming survey

Meanwhile, there are signs that the disease spread is slowing, with only three cases on Thursday, the lowest daily total since the outbreak's fourth day.

However, the Farmers' Weekly survey of 128 farmers who saw infected livestock slaughtered, suggested there were many concerns about the aftermath of the crisis.

Six percent planned to quit agriculture - three times the percentage leaving the industry in a normal year, said the magazine.

About 36% planned to partially restock their farms, while fewer than half expected their businesses to recover quickly.

NFU policy director Martin Haworth said it was "not surprising" that some wanted to quit.

But he added: "Many farmers we are talking to say this is a unique opportunity for them to rethink their businesses."

The average age of UK farmers is about 57 and a recent NFU survey of hill farmers found that half of their children did not want to go into the industry.

Phoenix with owner Michaela Board
Phoenix was reprieved as a result of the government's decision
From Friday, vets will decide whether cattle on farms neighbouring a foot-and-mouth outbreak should be destroyed.

Mr Brown said the relaxation of culling depended on adequate "bio-security", and denied it was a response to the plight of Phoenix the calf, found alive among a pile of carcasses.

Meanwhile the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has warned the rural crisis will deepen without a huge spending package to transform areas affected by the disease.

It has also wants reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (Cap).

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Robert Pigott
"Many famers are rethinking the way they work"
Nick Brown, Agriculture Minister
"I certainly think the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak has been the last straw for some farmers"


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10 Apr 01 | UK
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