Agriculture in crisis: `Prices halved and I lost pounds 300,000'

TOM HAIGH stands among his empty pens and cattle sheds surveying what was once a prosperous beef business, but which is now nothing.

Mr Haigh, 74, has farmed Tanton Grange farm, at Stokesley near Middlesbrough since 1947 and until 1996 profitably ran a herd of 1,200 young bulls. But the BSE crisis finished it for him. From making a comfortable income, the collapse of the beef export market led him into enormous losses.

"Our turnover was pounds 600,000 a year," he said. "We fattened the bulls and sold them at market for pounds 500, which gave us a pounds 50 profit on each. But when the market collapsed I was getting pounds 240 an animal. Over two-and-a- half years, I lost pounds 300,000. It was terrible. It took me three years to get out. I still live here, but everything's empty. It's so sad."

The Reverend Nick Read, who runs the Rural Stress Information Network, a charity helping farmers cope with their problems, says stress levels in the farming community are rising rapidly. "It's not just that every farm enterprise is depressed, it's the length of the depression," he said.

"Farm incomes have been falling consistently for three years and the prognosis for the future is not good. People who have been around for a long time are comparing it with the Thirties recession."

This year, he said, six counties have launched stress support initiatives for farmers - Kent, Cambridgeshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey and Sussex - to add to the 25 other counties that already have them. "It is a very isolated job, and difficulties can also cause family problems as farmers inevitably take their troubles home with them," Mr Read said.

Farmers are statistically twice as likely to commit suicide as other men of the same age.

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