DAVID SHAW

, 50, is a fourth-generation dairy farmer but it's unlikely that his son Robert will follow him into the job. "The chances are slim," he says as he tries to imagine the future.

He's taking extreme measures to survive on the 300-acre family farm in Elvington, near York, where he has a herd of 200 Jersey cows. His bull calves are being shot at birth and given to the local hunt as meat for the hounds because he cannot afford to rear them or send them for slaughter.

"I couldn't shoot them myself, I just couldn't. The man from the hunt does that," he adds, stroking the head of one heifer calf. The shooting takes place on the farm and has done since the beginning of August, and they go to the local hunt free of charge.

"I can't afford to tag them or send them away to slaughter. I've had to shoot about 15, and there will be more. It's a desperate thing to do because my job is to rear livestock but I am determined to hang on. I've got a product that people want, but the market at the moment can't support us.

"I will carry on shooting until there is a better market for them. There are something like 600,000 calves in the country without a market."

Farmers such as Mr Shaw are suffering the effects of a dire set of adverse economic factors, not least the strength of the pound which is making their goods hard to sell abroad, while cheap overseas produce is flooding into Britain. Many farmers, says Mr Shaw, are dependent on the banks' goodwill to see them through until the market picks up again - and he is optimistic that it will. He argues that farming is a long-term commitment and anyone in it for quick profit or return can only lose.

"It is hard, but then there are many hard times in agriculture. My father told me about the terrible times farmers had in the 1920s; it's much the same now. This is a time when we need support from the Government to see us through until the market picks up again. We've got to get on."

Meanwhile, Mr Shaw's 16- year-old son Robert is looking elsewhere for his future. "His GCSE results were excellent. He's got a brilliant future ahead of him, but I don't think it will be in farming. We need people like him in agriculture. He was interested when things were going well but he doesn't understand why we have to work so hard for so little return, or even for nothing."

'It's worse today than the 1930s'

CHARLES HAIGH

CHARLES HAIGH, 61, and his brother Allen, 58, have a 300- acre urban farm in Tingley, near Wakefield, West Yorkshire, where they have already given up keeping their 250 sows because the market has disappeared. Now they keep just 30.

They still have 200 breeding ewes and 120 cows but everything they have saved for their retirement is being used to survive. "It's worse today than the agricultural recession in the 1930s," says Mr Haigh, who has been a farmer all his life.

He's clearly angry that the industry is in a shambles and argues that it is wrong that this country cannot produce enough food for its own people while its farmers are going out of business.

"It can't be right that we are eating more imported food when farmers are barely scraping a living, or going bankrupt."

He fears less and less land will be used for farming and that we will depend more on imported produce - because we are over-regulated. "Other countries which don't have the same kind of regulations are producing food as good as anything here, and more cheaply," he says.

The Haighs have found themselves leaning more heavily on the nine-vehicle haulage business set up by their family 30 years ago as a safeguard against hard times. "We are relying more on haulage because I can see the farming side of our lives disappearing," adds Mr Haigh.

For all their difficulties, the Haighs think they are among the lucky ones. "I know of farmers who are in great debt or have gone out of business. Others are taking jobs like filling supermarket shelves just to keep things together.

"I think it is a serious situation we are in, and it's time the Government woke up to it. Maybe we need a retirement scheme, one which will allow farmers to leave the land with dignity and not go into abject poverty. Farmers are proud people who won't give up easily. Perhaps that's their problem."

Comments