Right of Reply: Ben Gill

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The Independent Culture
The President of the National Farmers Union responds

to our critical leading article

YOUR LEADING article ("Farmers need fewer subsidies and more competition", 17 November) accurately points out that British farmers are indeed in crisis. However the article fails to appreciate the real depth of the financial depression weighing down on our industry.

One only has to look at the stark economical statistics. Average farm incomes were almost cut in half last year and are forecast to fall by another two-thirds this year. This could mean that farm incomes will have fallen by as much as 80 per cent over the past two years. Put yourself in the shoes of farmers. How would you cope with a crash in income of that scale?

At a time when the Government is to introduce a national minimum wage of pounds 3.60 per hour, this is but a mirage on the horizon for the vast majority of UK farmers.

Many in farming are battening down the hatches in the hope that they will see the crisis through. Others have had no choice but to say farewell to a whole way of life - a way of life, for many, spanning several generations.

Your article wrongly assumes that all farmers own their land. This disregards the tenant farmers who rent their land and have no long-term security.

The Government's short-term package of help will save a number of farmers from wholesale financial collapse. But it won't solve every economic ill facing the industry.

Farmers are working hard to help themselves. The National Farmers Union is looking towards a market-oriented reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

We also, as farmers, need to redouble our efforts to improve the efficiency of supply chains through the wider use of collaborative marketing.