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Thursday 27th November 2003
Farming on the road to a slow recovery
Farmhouses at Lustleigh
Farm incomes are up - but are still low
A report compiled by Devon County Council shows that farming is making a slow recovery following the foot-and- mouth outbreaks of 2001. However, salaries remain low - and the number of farm workers is declining.
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Farming in Devon is showing slow signs of recovery two years on from the foot-and-mouth crisis, according to the first ever survey into the state of the agriculture in the county.

The survey also found that although farm incomes are on the increase, they're still well down compared to the mid-1990s.

Another trend is the declining numbers of farm workers - although the total number of farms has remained stable.

The study was commissioned by Devon County Council and produced by the Centre for Rural Research at Exeter University.

It looked at various data, and has, for the first time, brought all the data together. Follow-up surveys are planned for future years, so that trends can be spotted - and, if necesary, acted upon.

The survey comes two years after the foot-and- mouth crisis in 2001. There were 173 cases in Devon, and around 400,000 animals were slaughtered - mainly due to the controversial contiguous cull policy.

Large areas of the county were effectively sealed off as a precaution, which it's estimated cost the Devon ecomony many millions of pounds.

Devon farm incomes for 2001-2002 reached an average low of £5,000 to £6,000. Incomes have since more than doubled, but the average is still low - £14,700.

The survey also found that foot-and-mouth led to farm labourers being laid off. The number of farm workers went down by 4% as a result of the outbreaks.

In 1980, there were 10,000 farm labourers working in Devon - in 2000, that figure was down to 6,000. The number has been reduced still further since then.

The overall picture of the future of farming in Devon is optimistic. However, the report says there will be more changes ahead for the industry and the recovery will take time.

Sustainable Food and Farming Co-ordinator at the county council, Charlie Taylor, said: "It will be a long haul back. There is a recovery, but it is a slow recovery.

"And there will be further change. Farmers have been diversifying, and that will continue.

"We think that the changes as a result of the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will benefit Devon because it will favour smaller, more mixed farm systems, and that is what we have here in Devon.

"We need to see how the UK Government implements the reforms before we know exactly what the changes will be. But we think it should be good for Devon."

He said the county council wants to see more sustainable farming, improved environmental performance, and better social and community connections - including a local supply chain.

It's believed this is vital for the long-term future of farming in Devon.

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