More than a third of farmers in the UK have revealed they intend to scale down their operations. After the devastation caused to the rural community by the foot and mouth epidemic, the results of a survey in Farmers’ Weekly magazine indicate a certain change for the rural landscape.

The survey of 128 affected farmers was conducted as the government stressed that the foot and mouth crisis was abating, and that the intensive cull of cattle was over. Nevertheless, the experience of the virus and its repercussions has led many farmers to re-evaluate their farming businesses. 

Less than 50% of those questioned were positive about the ability of their farm businesses to recover in the near future. A similar figure argued they had not received adequate compensation for the loss of their herds to the government cull and 36% revealed that they would only partially restock following the crisis. Six per cent expressed their intention to leave farming altogether; a figure the magazine explains is three times the number who leave in a normal year.
Policy director of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), Martin Haworth commented: “There will be a number of farmers, particularly older ones without any successors, who think it will be a long time before they can restock and get back into business […] The compensation they have got is fair so it is not surprising that some will get out of farming.”

“If anything, we are surprised the figure is not even higher.”

Haworth did stress however that the crisis could potentially prove to be a positive turning point for British farming, as farmers adopt methods to produce a higher quality of meat. “Many farmers we are talking to say this is a unique opportunity for them to rethink their businesses […] Farmers who previously opted for quantity are telling us they are now going to go for quality. That is not a bad thing,” he commented.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has meanwhile warned the government that a substantial rescue package must be put together for rural Britain in the aftermath of foot and mouth, or else it risks witnessing the crisis deepen. Agriculture and rural development policy officer at WWF UK, Richard Perkins, commented: “Common Agricultural Policy needs to be spent on rural development and provide the investment to build a sustainable rural economy for the future.”