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Tough farming times ahead warns outgoing union boss

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: January 09, 2014

CONCERN: High lamb prices mean farmers are not making money from keeping sheep.

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DEVON'S outgoing chairman of the National Farmers Union (NFU) has warned of a difficult year ahead for livestock members in the face of international competition.

Sheep farmer Colin Rowland from Bampton highlighted TB in cattle and depressed lamb prices.

He's handing over the job to new chairman, David Verney, of Bishops Nympton.

Mr Rowland put the lamb prices top of his list of problems.

But he also said a brave government should roll out the badger cull to wider areas.

Mr Rowland has been county NFU chairman for two years and gave the Journal his thoughts on the year ahead:

"Without a shadow of doubt the lamb price is a serious cause for concern. The sheep are not making any money.

"I know times are tough for everybody but unless farmers are given a fair incentive to produce food in future, the industry's going to go into decline.

"I can't go on producing lamb for the cost of production or less.

"The big factor is the cost of production. We had a very hard spring last year, and spent a lot on concentrates."

On top of prices, he said, farmers could see problems ahead with new rules on sheep identification coming into force in 2015. A lot of farmers are struggling. The single farm payment is having to be used to pay off accumulated debts, that's what farmers are telling me.

"Unless they're given a bit of slack there's a poor outlook for production in beef and lamb.

"Dairy has sorted itself out to a large degree and quite a few guys have invested in dairy."

On bovine TB Mr Rowland said: " I think unless the Government is braver and goes with larger (badger cull) areas it's going to take too many years to cover Devon.

"Then they need to take in the rest of the country, with TB in cattle advancing five miles a year.

"The whole country will be taken over by it. It's no good going on like this.

"We need to bring in other methods of dealing with the problem too, like free snaring and gassing. They all need to be trialled to see if they work.

"But the problem is massive and we're in jeopardy, with a serious decline in the cattle population."

Despite the difficulties besetting the industry Mr Rowland said he'd enjoyed his time as chairman:

"I've met some very interesting and lovely people, but I didn't do it to have a good time. I did it to better farming.

"I don't know if we've done that but we've made our opinions felt and helped the farming fraternity.

"And it's a tough world out there at present. Most farmers will survive by not changing their tractor or doing any maintenance. It's the ancilliary ones that are going to feel the pinch."

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