Fall in number of farm workers

Wednesday, 23 May, 2007

A FARMERS' union has voiced its concern at the number of agricultural workers in Suffolk that have left their posts within the last 10 years.

Last year the total agricultural labour force in the county was 10,293 compared to 11,791 in 1997 - a drop of 1,498.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) said the number of people leaving the industry was a concern and that it was down to a number of factors.

John Collen, chairman of Suffolk NFU, said: 'It doesn't come as a surprise. The number of farmers in general is a concern. The speed of change over the last five years has been considerable.

'We have had to adapt incredibly quickly to the economic situation we found ourselves in and that has meant many farmers and farm workers have decided to get out. Increasingly there are fewer people doing more and more acres.'

Mr Collen said the blame did not solely lie at the door of the Government as world market forces also had an impact.

'We have just gone through the lowest prices in memory which has meant many people have gone out of business,' he said. 'It would be very easy to say the Government should do more to support us but -although it could have been more sympathetic and the Single Payment Scheme was a disaster - it's not quite as simple as that.

'Unfortunately we are now at the mercy of the world's market forces. Fortunately these have a tendency to fluctuate and now hopefully we are going to have an upward trend.'

The Single Payment Scheme was introduced in 2005 and pays farmers for the land they manage or own.

David Ruffley, Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds, said delays administering the scheme cost UK farmers up to £25.5 million.

'The Government's neglect of farmers and mismanagement of their needs has clearly led to this decline,' he said.

'This kind of bureaucratic nightmare must never be allowed to occur again. We must do all we can to support our farming community - they are the lifeblood of Suffolk.'

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said between 1997 and 2006 the total number of farmers, partners or directors in agriculture had increased from 292,000 to 350,000.

'In 1997 there were 169,000 people full-time farmers, partners or directors involved in agriculture and 123,000 involved on a part time basis,' she said. 'In 2006, 152,000 individuals were involved on a full-time basis with 198,000 involved part-time.'