Farming 'close to being lost forever'

UK - In a devastating report being published today, Sir Stuart Hampson lays bare the crisis facing agriculture in Britain. James Hall reports on the drastic solutions he believes are needed to prevent the sector from collapsing.
calendar icon 2 July 2006
clock icon 3 minute read
The Royal Show, which opens today at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire, is an annual celebration of farming in Britain. However, the hearty crowds visiting the numerous marquees, food stalls and show rings are unlikely to be aware of a more serious event taking place at the same time.

At the show this morning, Sir Stuart Hampson, the chairman of John Lewis Partnership, which runs the Waitrose chain of supermarkets, will warn that a "deep-seated crisis" afflicting UK farmers has left the agricultural sector perilously close to collapse.

In a stark report commissioned by Hampson in his role as president of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, the retailer will say that government regulation, supermarket buying practices, cheap imports, food scares such as BSE and shopping behaviour have all led to a "visible and disturbing" decline in the once-thriving industry.

The report concludes that the predicament of farmers is "not just another farming crisis" but is a turning point that will have profound implications on the countryside, primary food manufacturers and shoppers unless urgent action is taken.

Tomorrow Hampson will discuss his findings with David Miliband, the environment and rural affairs minister. The report could also be submitted to the Competition Commission as part of its probe into the supermarket sector.

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The key findings of the Report

  • A viable UK farming sector is "very close" to being lost forever.

  • Output from UK farms has fallen from £17bn to £14bn in the past decade. Total farm income has almost halved over this period and fallen by two thirds since 1973.

  • Farming's share of the UK's £77bn annual food and drink spending has fallen by 23 per cent to £7.8bn since 1988.

  • 52 per cent of shoppers think that it is the Government's role to protect the farming industry;17 per cent say that it is the retailers' role.

  • 86 per cent of consumers say that Britain should be a farming nation, but only 18 per cent actively "buy British".

  • Most consumers do not think that their purchasing decisions can help UK farming.

  • 81 per cent of shoppers want to reduce food miles, but only a quarter consider the country of origin when making food purchases.

  • Shoppers do not believe that supermarkets pass higher prices back to farmers.

  • Supermarkets' obsession with low prices in their marketing slogans has had a direct influence on shopping habits.

  • UK farmers must offer differentiated products to survive. They should focus on aspects such as high animal welfare standards, environmental responsibility and sound provenance. Ethical consumerism is growing 50 per cent faster than the conventional grocery market.
Source: The Telegraph

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