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Colin Wight reports
"Last year was one of the hardest"
 real 28k

Monday, 31 January, 2000, 20:05 GMT
Scottish farm incomes plummet

Cattle in field BSE and a strong pound have slashed incomes

Scotland's farmers have seen their incomes drop by more than a fifth in the last year, according to government figures.

The figure, which compares to a drop south of the border of 16%, has prompted Rural Affairs Minister Ross Finnie to press for additional compensation.

Mr Finnie is to meet his Westminister counterparts on Wednesday, where he will ask for more help from Europe, backed with UK funds.

The "agrimoney compensation" can only be applied for on a UK-wide basis, and then only with the support of Westminster.

The fall in incomes is being blamed on the weakness of the Euro against the pound, oversupply in world commodity markets and continuing difficulties in regaining lost export markets.

Ross Finnie Ross Finnie: "Outwith my control"
"These factors are outwith the control of the Scottish Parliament and Ministers," said Mr Finnie.

"But they have persuaded me that agricultural ministers should give careful consideration to paying additional agrimoney compensation this year, while recognising the resource issues involved."

The detail of the figures shows total income in the farm industry has declined from 700m in 1995 to 240m now. Farmers received an average of 20,000 each in compensation last year.

'Totally unsustainable'

The figures have alarmed the National Farmers Union in Scotland. President Jim Walker said: "That's the third year in a row we're below the minimum wage. 85 a week on average for the last three years, down to 70 a week this year. It's just totally unsustainable."

The fall in farm incomes has been pounced on by opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament.

The Conservatives' rural affairs spokesman Alex Johnstone MSP described them as a "shocking indictment of the executive's handling of rural Scotland."

Jim Walker SNFU President Jim Walker: "below minimum"
"The average earnings conceal a catastrophic slump of 96% and 68% respectively for cereal and dairy farmers. These two sectors stand as testament to what happens when the executive flatly refuses to deliver any credible assistance to our farmers in their time of great need."

Alasdair Morgan MSP, the Scottish National Party's rural affairs spokesman, said the statistics showed that Scotland needed control over its own economic policy.

"I want to know what action Ross Finnie is taking to lobby Gordon Brown to change his strong sterling policy.

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