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Tuesday, September 21, 1999 Published at 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK


UK farmers 'struggling to survive'

64% of farmers have borrowed money just to stay afloat

Farmers are "barely holding on to survival by their fingertips", according to a report published by the National Farmers' Union.

Farming in crisis
A day after the government announced a £150m rescue package for farmers, the NFU has published a survey which tells a "tale of woe and desperation".

The NFU audit of 5,000 farmers across the UK found falling incomes and spiralling costs in all areas of farming.

Environment Correspondent Robert Piggott: "The report suggests urgent action is still needed"
More than 60% of farmers have had to borrow money just to keep their farms afloat.

Three-quarters of those surveyed said they had no confidence in the future of farming, and 66% of farmers' children did not intend to take over the family business.

Famers are earning an average of £8,000 a year, according to the NFU.

[ image:  ]
More than 50% of farmers have seriously considered leaving their jobs; a third reported they had to make farm workers redundant, and 62% are working more than 61 hours a week.

NFU President Ben Gill said: "Our report shows an industry shattered to the core.

"This is no way for an important sector of the UK economy to be forced to exist at the close of the 20th century."

Nick Brown: "The government has responded positively to everything that has been put to us"
Mr Gill said the government's aid package relieved "some of the symptoms" of the present crisis but it was now necessary to tackle the causes.

"A reduction in the overvalued pound and the stripping away of the over-regulation and bureaucracy choking the industry would have a huge impact," he said.

[ image:  ]
"For many farmers, this will be the government's last chance to act."

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said the new government aid package would relieve the regulatory burden.

"The government has responded positively to absolutely everything that has been put to us by farmers," he said.

However, farmers themselves seemed unimpressed.

Ken Bolton, who rents a 250-acre dairy and beef farm in Westbury-on-Severn in the Forest of Dean, told BBC News: "I can't see any difference to last year.

Farmer Ken Bolton discusses whether the aid package will help
"They're not putting on any new bureaucracy costs but they're certainly not putting more into the farmers' pocket."

Shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo said the £150m package was too little, too late.

[ image:  ]
Mr Brown had "cleverly added up all the figures for the next three years," he said.

"But the fact is that the amount of new cash going to help British farmers after two years of unprecedented crisis and collapse in their incomes is very small.

"And it mostly goes to burdens which have been added in the last two years by this government," he said.

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