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Recession Road: Cross Leys Farm

Phil Coomes | 18:21 UK time, Monday, 14 September 2009

This post is from our Recession Road series, part of our special report on the global downturn.

Clive Fuller

Like many people, Cambridgeshire arable farmer Clive Fuller can't give a simple yes or no answer to the question of whether the recession has made life worse for his family business.

Some things have worked in their favour, some not.

The direct impact has been lessened, he says, because agriculture was slumping while much of the rest of the country was riding high.

"To have a recession you have to have a boom, and we didn't have the boom."

The number one factor affecting his livelihood is not economics but world weather patterns. Whether the politicians can do anything about that is an argument for another day.

Fluctuating oil prices also affect his pockets deeply, as does the strength or weakness of the pound. In fact a weak pound is good news in their household, because this means some of the types of products they produce - such as wheat and oilseed rape - are exported more. And with the recession hitting previously soaring oil prices, the cost of fertilisers and fuel dropped for a time, before rising again recently.

Clive FullerOn the other hand, a fifth of their business is growing malting barley for beer. But the price has been hit so much they'll probably have to sell it for animal feed this year.

"That's been one crop that is really suffering. We can't find anybody to buy it, it's probably worth £75 a tonne, while the cost of production is £110.

"Two years ago everybody, including China, was drinking a lot of lager and whisky.

"But with people cutting back - certainly on drinking quality lager and malts - what they have tended to do is start making alcohol out of any starch product they can find."

Farming, like many businesses, can be unpredictable at the best of times. Clive says he has little sympathy for those profitable firms that failed to save for a "rainy day". Despite everything Cross Leys Farm - which lies between Peterborough and Stamford - was in the black when the banking crisis took hold. But then the world suddenly changed.

"That was my biggest worry 12 months ago, and I remember it very well, because I was running around deciding whether my money was safe in my bank.

"The product I'd combined was in the shed, I felt that it was safer not to sell it because it was worth more to me as a commodity. How did I know that a company I might sell 20% of my harvest to was going to be supported by the bank?"

Around the same time they had spent £3,000 refurbishing another part of their business - DIY livery for horse owners.

"I should have put the prices up then. But it came to Christmas and it was pretty obvious when you've got two or three owners who have just been made redundant, you've got other people scrimping around, we were all in the same situation. It would be fairly callous for me to turn round to owners and say 'well actually I want a bit more'."

"I'd rather keep those owners, then I know that they are going to work with me, and hopefully we can all come through this together."

You can read an explanation of our Recession Road series here. Words: Paula Dear; Images: Phil Coomes.

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