Fresh evidence of the devastating impact of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) on Britain’s countryside emerged on Friday when a survey showed increasing numbers of farmers planning to leave the land.
A third of farmers hit by the livestock disease planned to scale down their business and a further six percent expected to give up farming altogether, figures in the Farmers Weekly publication showed.
Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said he understood why farmers wanted to retire in the wake of the “mad cow” scare of the ’90s, years of low commodity prices and now the foot-and-mouth crisis which has led to the slaughter of millions of animals.
Seven people are now awaiting results of tests that will show whether they have contracted the human form of foot and-mouth.
According to the poll, 36 percent of 128 farmers directly affected by foot-and-mouth who were questioned said they would only partially restock their farms after the disease subsided.
Six percent, three times the rate in a normal year, said they would leave farming altogether.
“Many producers believe the crisis is a watershed for British farming,” the report said. “In some cases, fields will remain empty as farmers shut down unprofitable enterprises.”
Four in five said the government had not handled the crisis well. One in four said it would take between five and nine years for their farms to recover to pre-crisis levels.
Brown said it was time to move away from production subsidies in agriculture which critics say have encouraged farmers to put profits before the quality and safety of produce.
“The economic part of the industry should get much closer to the market place and be far less reliant on subsidies from the state,” he told BBC radio.
He voiced sympathy for farmers leaving the land.
“I certainly think the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak has been the last straw for some farmers. They’ve been through four years of depressed incomes. The average age in the industry is 58, and when farmers go through the heartbreaking process of seeing their stock slaughtered out they are bound to think…whether they should go through all the business of restocking and starting again.”