No one in the Westcountry needs
reminding of the heartache suffered by farmers in the darkest days of the
foot and mouth crisis.|
But one year on, as farmers restock and
attempt to rebuild their lives, British agriculture still remains
The statistics tell a harsh tale - the numbers
simply do not add up to a viable income for many farmers, especially those
with smaller properties.
According to the latest figures, a lowland
Westcountry farmer who keeps cattle and sheep loses #4,190 a
Most dairy farmers currently receive just 16p for a litre of
milk - the lowest price in Europe. A litre costs an estimated 20.7p to
During the foot and mouth crisis, each farm lost between
#1,348 and #12,057, according to a recent study.
Most tellingly, in
the past ten years the number of farms in the region has not changed. Out
of a total of 28,000 holdings in the region, 20,000 of them were run
full-time in 1992. Today, however, only 13,000 of these farms provide a
living solely through agriculture.
It is clear that farmers do not
want to sell up if they can help it. They will even take on second jobs to
keep their farms going, but the Government is not making it easy for
Prime Minister Tony Blair's words at last week's Labour Party
conference in Blackpool have dismayed farmers, who say they are not being
told anything they did not know before.
Mr Blair said Government
money for farming had to be used "to reform farming so that it has a
Farmers argue that these words are empty because Mr Blair
and Rural Secretary Margaret Beckett are not helping them to
They say that the Government has tied up British
agriculture in paperwork so tightly that it can barely move.
Morrish, a Westcountry farmer who runs the Rural Stress Information
Network, said: "You get these statements from Beckett and Blair saying we
have got to wake up. That is exactly what these people have been
At the height of the foot and mouth epidemic, Mr Morrish
was receiving around 160 calls a day from farmers seeking advice. Today,
up to 40 people still phone him daily.
"A large proportion of our
calls are from tenant farmers," he said. "They are predominantly aged 25
to 45, and they have just had two of the worst years that they will ever
"The majority are in dairy farming and have an overdraft.
They just can't go on like this. All they are doing is earning a bit of
money to keep their overdraft at a similar level.
"When we had foot
and mouth, people who were struggling didn't feel really isolated because
everyone was in the same boat.
"Now the people who are struggling
because of the knock-on effect are very vulnerable."
deputy chairman of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institute (RABI),
tells a similar story. "The RABI ran a 24-hour helpline during the crisis,
and we heard some horrific stories," she said. "Some people were so
traumatised that they could barely speak, let alone cry.
are proud and independent. They have been forced into this situation by
the methods required by the Government, and half the time they are now
being blamed for it."
In the Westcountry alone, the RABI has given
more than #2 million to 1,400 farmers since the foot and mouth
Mrs Nash said the difficulties farmers were facing often
had knock-on effects, saying: "Farmers' wives often get very lonely and
depressed - it is causing family problems because of that. People tend to
get rather upset with one another in these circumstances."
despite the gloomy situation, many farmers are treating the foot and mouth
epidemic as a new beginning rather than the final curtain.
Morrish also stressed that there were many heartening success stories in
the farming world, adding: "You would be amazed at the numbers of thank
you letters and cheques we receive from people we helped in their dark
days. People are restocking their farms, which is good, but worryingly
there are a lot of farms up for rent - that is always a bad
"In every competitive industry there will be failures and
successes - there have got to be some that fall by the
Colin Breed, MP for Cornwall South East and Liberal
Democrat agriculture and rural affairs spokesman, said: "The Government's
current strategies and policies are rather too long-term to deal with the
immediate crisis that farmers are now facing.
"They are losing
money hand over fist, and are penalised for the most ludicrous of simple
errors in their paperwork. They are under enormous pressure from both the
market and the Government, to a point where many now feel there is no
point trying to carry on. That will inevitably result in a significant
loss of home-grown produce and real hardship in rural areas."
Breed suggested two measures the Government could take immediately to help
farmers. "They could recognise that Defra and the Rural Payments Agency
need an appeal system so that farmers who I think are almost being
victimised have someone they can seek justice from," he said. "The
Government has also got to get involved in helping to establish farming
co-operatives to increase farming incomes."
Ian Johnson, spokesman
for the NFU in the South West, said the farmers' current plight was
largely down to the economic climate in Britain, with a strong pound
encouraging cheap imports and making it prohibitively expensive to export
He also pointed to a Government-co-ordinated buy local
campaign as a way of supporting British farming without resorting to
"If all the institutions in the Westcountry, such as
schools, councils and universities, sourced locally, we would not even
have to look outside the region," he said. "And every individual can help
by buying or asking for regional