`I see no investment in the land'

A SHARP decline in Donald Arscott's fortunes in the past two years has cast a dark shadow over his family's future in agriculture, writes Linus Gregoriadis.

Like many farmers, Mr Arscott, who owns a 125-acre lowland farm in Devon, has seen his profits virtually disappear because of BSE scares and the strength of the pound.

His dairy and beef farm, near Honiton in the Blackdown Hills, made a net profit of pounds 28,500 in the financial year ending May 1996, but in the following year his profit margin fell to pounds 5,021. He will be lucky if he has broken even in the last 12 months. "My 79-year-old mother, who was born on this farm, said to me recently, `I have seen good times and bad times in farming, but I have never seen them like they are now'," he said.

"The situation for farmers is diabolical. People say to us that we should have saved for a rainy day when we were having good times, but farmers don't do that. They invest their money in their farms to build for the future.

"Standing on my farm I can see half a dozen farms in a similar situation. I can't see any investment going on in any of them."

Mr Arscott, a 52-year-old grandfather, who admits he could sell up and live comfortably for the rest of his life in the worst case scenario, says he wants to build for his sons' future. "There has been no investment in the farm in the last 12 months and I can see no investment in the next 12 months. When you are in this business you look to expand all the time, especially when you have two sons."

Mr Arscott believes there is hope, however. "I think that if the pound comes down to a sensible level and we get the beef ban lifted then things should start to get better," he said.

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