Farmers' income plummets 90% in five years

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The incomes of Britain's farmers have continued to plummet, with a drop of nearly 30 per cent last year on the year before, according to a survey published yesterday.

The incomes of Britain's farmers have continued to plummet, with a drop of nearly 30 per cent last year on the year before, according to a survey published yesterday.

Over the past five years, farmers' earnings have fallen by 90 per cent and many farms are expected to make a £4,000 loss next year, according to the analysis by the accountants Deloitte and Touche. Farm incomes are now at the lowest point in the 11 years that the analysis has been running, the firm said.

Farmers' leaders, describing the findings as "depressing", predicted further job losses in the industry, which had already shed 22,000 workers in the 12 months to June last year. "The report again illustrates the severity of the crisis affecting British agriculture and its impact on every farm in the country, be it large or small," said the president of the National Farmers' Union, Ben Gill.

"The public has witnessed the devastation of trade and businesses in this country's pig sector and the pressures facing our dairy farmers. These figures now demonstrate that our arable farmers are also on the rocks."

Mr Gill called for the Government to work with farmers to "reduce red-tape and over-zealous regulation". The strong pound meant cereal farmers needed financial aid to survive, he said.

The Deloitte and Touche audit of 100,000 hectares of farm land found that an average-sized farm of 200 hectares, which earned £80,000 five years ago, now had to survive on little more than £8,000.

Net farm incomes were just £41 a hectare in 1999-2000 - £16 per hectare less than in the previous year - and the situation is likely to deteriorate, with net farm income forecast to fall from £41 a hectare profit to a £22 a hectare loss over the next year. The high pound, soaring fuel costs and low farm gate prices, as well as continuing problems in the pig and dairy sectors, were blamed for the continuing falls in revenue.

But the report praised farmers for cutting labour costs by 8 per cent, despite an increase in wage rates, and for looking to new money-making, non-farming ventures.

"We have to compliment farmers on taking some tough decisions to offset financial pressure. The very painful issue of workforce reduction is clearly being tackled," said Mark Hill, partner in charge of Deloitte and Touche's food and agriculture group.

Joyce Quin, an Agriculture minister, defended the Government's treatment of farmers but saidthe drop in their profits was worrying.

"Whereas farming income has doubled between 1990 and 1995, since 1995 it has fallen back very sharply and I accept those figures," Ms Quin said.

"We have taken a number of measures. On the immediate measures, particularly on the dairy sector, we have paid the maximum amount of agri-money compensation, the maximum available under European rules.

"Let me say that I believe very strongly ... that we have shown that we are not only listening but we are doing."

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