A field day for British farmers

While most of the economy suffers, the livestock industry is profiting from the pound's weakness

British farmers are often viewed as people with a lot to complain about. And with the recession in full flow, one might expect them to be even more despondent. Remarkably though, some farmers have seen their businesses turned around by the recession, and have reason to feel quietly pleased about the country's economic woes. This is particularly true for those who work in the beleaguered livestock sector, who have seen their costs fall as the price of meat rises.

The main cause of the farmers' delight is the weakened value of sterling against the euro. Although this might be bad news for British holidaymakers who want to soak up the sun in Spain, historically a weak pound has always been good news for farmers, as their EU subsidies are paid in euros. Another benefit is that British exports have become more competitive.

According to Francis Mordaunt, head of business research at Andersons agricultural consultants, the pound's slump has prompted a "recovery" period in the livestock sector, giving hope to farmers who have spent the past 10 or 15 years getting by on a pittance.

"The sector that is doing better at the moment is livestock, because they've got lower feed costs due to cheaper grain," he said. "Livestock farmers – those who sell beef, sheep, pigs and poultry – are benefiting from the weak sterling without any doubt. But you have to remember that being a beef or sheep farmer has not been profitable for many years. Many have been living off £10,000 which clearly isn't a living wage. They really only survived because they've diversified, and go out to do other things."

Adam Quinney, 46, rears cattle and sheep near Redditch in the West Midlands. He is now making twice the amount of money per cow than he did this time last year, and can now afford to be cautiously optimistic about the future of his business.

"The livestock sector has improved a lot over the past three or four months especially," he said. "It's really down to two reasons: the demand has been high because the number of livestock has fallen after low returns in previous years, and the rate of exchange has gone in our favour so our meat is competitively priced in Europe. It's made a fantastic difference. In 1996, BSE cut the value of our cows dramatically. At that time we would get around £300 per cow, but now they're fetching anywhere between £800 and £1,000 which obviously makes a big difference.

"Foot-and-mouth disease in 2001 also set our business back by about five years. We didn't get it – our neighbours did – but the resulting restrictions harmed our business big time.

"There are a lot of people who have been very despondent about being livestock farmers for the past two years, but now they're thinking there is a future, although they're still being very cautious. If the pound was to go back to where it was a year ago, a lot of our increases could be lost. But at the moment, there's a lot of demand for our products, and hopefully the price will remain firm so we can repair some of the damage done over the past 10 years."

According to Mr Quinney, the most remarkable thing about the past few months is the euphoria with which the slightest increases in the value of livestock has been greeted by formerly depressed farmers.He added: "This week, the price of a lamb increased to about £80 or £90, which everyone thinks is fantastic even though that's only £10 or £15 more than the price they were when I left college 25 years ago.

"Nevertheless, people seem a lot more buoyant and optimistic. We're not out of the woods yet, but what's really pleasing is that people are saying it's worthwhile reinvesting.

"Of course we're sensitive to the fact that all around us there are people losing their jobs in big numbers. Farmers have pensions too, and we've seen ours collapse just like everybody else. But every dog deserves its day."

Unfortunately, the story is very different for arable farmers, who have been badly affected by the escalating prices of feed, fuel and fertiliser – known in the trade as "the f-ing costs". Filling tractors with diesel and spreading good quality fertiliser has become prohibitively expensive, especially for farmers who rely on crops for a living. Many are now relying on the money they made from recent harvests to stay afloat.

"Arable and cereal farmers have just had two good years, but they're less optimistic now," said Francis Mordaunt. "They are staring at a loss year in 2009 unless prices improve. The cost of fertiliser is particularly high at the moment, and they've had to set prices which don't give them a return on the cost of their production. At the moment they're slipping backwards day by day."

Peter Kendall, 48, is an arable farmer who owns 1,500 acres of land at Eyeworth in Bedfordshire, where he grows a number of crops including wheat, oilseed rape, spring beans, oats and barley. He is also president of the National Farmers' Union. "As an arable farmer, it's been a once-in -a-lifetime rollercoaster over the last 18 months," he said. "We've seen absolutely record highs, followed by an explosion in costs as the price of fertiliser mirrored the rising price of oil. Our costs of production then escalated and we had a record high crop yield, which forced prices down again. Considering the costs we're now facing, it's not looking as rosy as it did.

"I don't want sound as if I'm whingeing, but if it wasn't for the falling value of the pound against the euro, there would be very long faces all round in the arable sector. Thankfully, at the moment we've still got the receipts from better harvests in 2007 and 2008, but everyone's a lot more nervous about the coming year because there's so much uncertainty."

It would be easy to put the sudden change in fortunes down to rising food prices, but such increases are not instantly fed back to farmers, who usually only provide the raw ingredients to the food processors before the products are marked up as they hit the shelves. As a result, most will only experience a tiny increase in revenue.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teachers and Support Staff

£50 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an SEN Teacher or L...

SharePoint Engineer - Bishop's Stortford

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organ...

Planning Manager (Training, Learning and Development) - London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glob...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a Teaching Assistant...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering