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UK Farming Crisis

(C) Gavin Duley 2001

How Has the Current Crisis in Farming
Affected the Farmers and Local Community

in a Less Favoured Area?

Geography Project for A-Level

by Gavin Duley

Table of Contents

List of Tables, Maps, Figures and Photos


Thanks to Caerwyn Roberts, Merthyr Farm, for reading the manuscripts and inspiring the project in the first place;

Similarly, many thanks to Marian Rees, Tal-y-llyn, for helping with the questionnaire, providing ideas, and letting me use her computer to print out the questionnaires and for her friendship and unfailing encouragement;

Thanks to Ron Griffiths, Tal-y-llyn, for helping with the Local Resident’s questionnaire and for the friendship and encouragement;

I thank everyone who answered questionnaires, or helped me with collecting my data. I received a large amount of help and ideas from people providing me with information in this way.

The National Farmer’s Union (NFU) for providing some information, particularly their local office in Dolgellau;

The Farmer’s Union of Wales, for providing policy information;

Snowdonia National Park, for providing demographic information;

The Meat and Livestock Commission, for providing information on stock prices;

The Countryside Council for Wales in Dolgellau, for providing information on Tir Gofal;

My parents, for chauffeuring and catering!


Setting the Scene

How has the current crisis in farming affected the farmers and the local community in an LFA?

Route to enquiry:

  1. What is the cause of the present crisis in farming in Snowdonia National Park?
  2. What impacts have these changes had in Snowdonia National Park, socially, economically and environmentally?
  3. What impacts have the changes had on rural communities?
  4. What direct/indirect impacts have been felt in Snowdonia National Park on farming-related activities?
  5. Who has gained? Who has lost out?
  6. What is the outlook for the future in Snowdonia National Park?

The area I studied for this project was in Snowdonia National Park, north Wales [see Map 1: Snowdonia National Park]. I had visited this area for summer holidays in the previous five years, and during that time I became interested in both the rugged natural beauty of the area and the strong Welsh culture which thrives in the ancient kingdom of Gwynedd. But I also came to appreciate the severe financial problems unique to this area that are faced by the ‘hill farmers’.

Whilst in Wales, I saw an ad in the Snowdonia newspaper. ‘Visit a hill farm’, it proclaimed, ‘and hear the farmer give a talk about his year’s work’, and when I visited I came away inspired. I felt that I had to do something for my study on hill farming. But what? Looking through newspapers and on the internet, it became apparent that the farming industry in general, but particularly in economically marginal areas such as Snowdonia, was undergoing what could only be described as a crisis [Apps.B, C, D, H, Q. Refs 3-8, 15, 18, 20-22, 28, 30, 32, 37, 39]. Researching further, it also became apparent that this crisis was no superficial ‘storm-in-a-teacup’, but an important time of trial and change in the industry [eg, Apps. D, V, AA]. The title which I chose for my study is "How has the current crisis in farming affected the farmers and local community in an LFA?"

The primary data collection for the study was undertaken during a visit (field trip) to the area for ten days in August 2000. I also collected a large volume of secondary data. Subsequent events have brought some of the issues that farmers raised in this study into the national press. Ironically, the first of the petrol blockades was planned in North Wales (Append. E, Photo 1). In the course of my study, I came to learn what the farmers are angry about - petrol tax is not the root cause of their problems, but is ‘another nail in the coffin’.

The Study Area was, due to the relatively sparse population, a large one.

I defined my Study Area thus: Starting at Harlech, the Study Area stretches to the south along the coast to Aberdyfi via Tywyn. At Aberdyfi it turns east to Machynlleth. Then it follows the boundary of the National Park northwards past Bala, until it is opposite Harlech. It then proceeds east to the coast at Harlech (see Map 1 overleaf).

The fieldwork comprised:

Human have been in North Wales for at least 200,000 years. [see Ref.1]. The landscape of this area has therefore been shaped and sustained over successive generations by human/environment interaction, particularly farming . Without the farmer’s constant management it would degrade to non-native scrubland, as will be explained in this report.

Snowdonia National Park covers 2,171 sq. km., [Ref. 2]. Less than 25% of Snowdonia is owned or managed by public bodies: the National Trust, National Park Authority, Water Authority and Forestry Commission [Ref. 1, p15]. It is administered by the Snowdonia National Park Authority, a committee of Gwynedd County Council, who funds the Authority by 25%. The balance of funding comes from Government via the Countryside Council [Ref. 1, p107]. I have included two photographs showing the urban and rural side of the area under "Snowdonia: Town and Country" (Fig 1)

The Authority has a Farming Liaison Officer: farmers wishing to submit an application for a Ministry of Agriculture land improvement grant must first seek the approval of the Authority [Ref. 1, p113].

The demographics of Snowdonia have changed steadily in recent decades. The average age in villages has increased, as the result of complex factors. First, this is a national trend because the British population is living longer and having fewer children. Secondly, young people are moving away from rural areas to find employment [eg, Ref. 7]. This causes great anxiety to farming families and rural communities, as examined here. In Snowdonia, these problems are exacerbated because of remoteness. Thirdly, retirees from outside are moving into Snowdonia: in some parts of the Park the population is increasing. [Ref 40.]
Explanation of terms-

LFA: Less Favoured Area (an EU land type classification). This provides extra subsidies for farmers in adverse conditions.

Tir Cymen (‘Tidy Land’): was a trial run of an agri-environment scheme unique to a restricted area of Wales. It is run by The Countryside Commission for Wales, on behalf of the Welsh Assembly. The scheme encouraged farmers, with financial support, to maintain the farm environment. Tir Cymen provides funding for building and maintaining stone walls and hedges, planting trees, and maintaining archaeological and historical sites. Membership for this scheme has now been closed. Farms in Tir Cymen are also expected to ensure that all rights of way are on their land are usable, and even provide new access. Farms not in Tir Cymen carry this work out unpaid.(see App Y.)

Tir Gofal: Replaced Tir Cymen. This is running throughout Wales. (see Ref 11)

CAP: European Union Common Agricultural Policy. An important policy change affecting hill-farming relates to subsidies, presently per head of stock, to change to per hectare. Introduction of ear-tagging will also affect farmers financially (Ref 10,App K )

Autumn Fat Lambs: Lambs sold in Autumn in their first year.

Breeding Ewes: Breeding ewes are sold off the mountain at 4 years of age, when their teeth get smooth. These are ususally bought by lowland farmers for continued breeding (another 4 years).



Is farming in a crisis?
"British farming is in crisis again. Who says so? The farmers say so. They often do. It would be easy to dismiss farming’s current problems as exaggerated, or even invented. It would be easy to recall the familiar stereotype of the British farmer as a rich whinger. It would be tempting to say that an industry that has brought us the horrors of BSE deserves little sympathy. But it would be a pity not to listen to the farmers, because what is happening to them now is real, and it is serious." [BBC News, Ref. 8]

This crisis is felt by many farmers to be one of its worst yet, and its most serious, threatening to put many off the land that their family has farmed for generations.

In particular, farmers are facing a severe economic crisis.
"The NatWest Bank believes that 25,000 farmers up to 15% of full time producers may be forced to leave the industry. These are likely to be people with small farms [such as hill farmers]. Farmer’s incomes are at their lowest level in real terms [ie, counting for inflation] in 60 years. They fell by almost 50% in 1997 and are expected to fall by another two thirds this year. The prices farmers get for their beef is down by 35% in two years; the price for milk and chicken by about 22%." [BBC News, Ref. 8]

The whole industry seems to be on the brink of collapse, and the farmers and related industries often feel that the future of the industry as a whole is outside of their grasp. But should we worry about farming? Surely the farming industry should not be ‘propped up’ by subsidies in a manner that no other industry is? However, this depends on how you view the role of farming. If its role is only to produce ‘cheap’ food quickly and efficiently, then subsidies are unwarranted and market forces should prevail.

If, however, farming is seen as a method of land stewardship, producing a healthy, humane product rather than just ‘cheap food’, support may be necessary. Farms that benefit both the consumer and the environment will never be economically viable without help. Farming is unlike any other industry in that it has shaped the landscape - maintenance of even apparently ‘natural’ environment, such as heather moorlands, lies with the farming industry.
"Then there is the question of what farmers actually do. Yes, they grow food, often too much of it, because of the cock-eyed subsidies from the Common Agricultural Policy. The more farmers produce, the more the CAP pays them. That cannot go on for ever. But farmers also maintain the countryside. And if they are not there to do it, the countryside we cherish will change drastically. Much of our countryside is not ‘natural’ as we imagine. It is the product of centuries of human activity. But it is what we are used to, and what many of us value. Farmers (apart from the industrial ones who turn fields into prairies) are the people we have to thank for it. If they cannot earn a living from producing food, why not pay them to be park keepers? In the end, though, producing food is what farmers want to do. And it is why we shall go on needing them." [BBC News, Ref. 8]

Farmers feel that the government is out of touch with rural issues. The recent ‘fuel crisis’ is an example of this. Increases in the price of fuel [See Photo 1. June 2000, Dolgellau] has exacerbated the financial difficulties faced by hill farmers who are heavily reliant on fuel (petrol and diesel), both for both vehicles and tractors, and to deliver their products to market (because of the physical isolation of North Wales farms). North Wales farmers have been in the forefront of fuel protests [Append. E]. Farmers are eligible for ‘red diesel’, which only attracts 3.13p excise duty per litre. Neil Ward, senior lecturer in Geography at Newcastle University who last year helped produce a Cabinet report on rural economics, said-

"It is a mystery to me why farmers are protesting about the government’s approach to fuel duty when agriculture get such special treatment." [Ref. 9]

But the farmers behind the protests do not feel that they get "special treatment".
"We’re not subsidised on anything. I don’t know where this bloody nonsense has come from. I have got agricultural equipment on this farm which allows me to carry out my duties on this farm. I am not allowed to take any of my vehicles on to the road. … The price of our diesel over the last 11 months has jumped 50%. Right. My income has fallen 50%. Now someone wants to tell the public the figures don’t quite stack up." David Handley, a Welsh farmer in Monmouthshire and chairman of the pressure group ‘Farmers For Action’ [Ref. 9]

It is another economic ‘straw’ breaking the farmer’s back.

These problems are particularly acute in the National Park, as it is on the economic margins of land that can be farmed. The sheep grown in this area are from smaller, hardier breeds than grown in lowland farms, and consequently raise less money. Problems faced by farmers in other areas are amplified by the harsh natural conditions, although LFA status compensates for this to some degree.

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Data Collectionand Recording

Primary Data

Four questionnaires were developed to allow data collection during the field trip:

All but one of the questionnaires were written before going to Wales. Two Snowdonia residents were kind enough to trial the questionnaires before I started formal interviews. The questionnaires were then modified and reprinted. See Table 1.

Secondary Data

Maps were obtained from the Landranger series for topographical information or from books related to the subject.

An extensive collection of data was made of letters and literature from public, semi-public and private bodies, as well as internet sites and news cuttings. Relevant data is presented in this Section while other articles and opinions have been largely posted in the Appendices or quoted in the References. See Table 2.


Collection and Recording: The Questionnaires

Farmer’s Questionnaire

Conducted at: Dolgellau Farmer’s Market [see photographs 2-4], and individual farmhouses

This was designed to determine what economic and social problems, if any, farmers were facing. Frequently the farmer being interviewed volunteered a considerable amount of extra data and opinions, after I had concluded the Questionnaire. This was taken down in note form on the back of the Questionnaire. These extra comments were often informative, and quotes are used in this study. A copy of this Questionnaire with justifications for each question is shown in this Section (Table 3). The results have been tabulated in Table 7. For analysis purposes, answers have been entered into a spreadsheet (Table 8) and subjected to statistical analysis where appropriate.

Extended Farmer’s Questionnaire

Conducted at: individual farmhouses

It quickly became apparent that my Farmer’s Questionnaire could not address all of the issues that I wanted: ie, further financial, social and environmental issues. An Extended Questionnaire was developed during the early stages of the study period. This was asked of four farmers whom I visited and who had enough time to go through the lengthy interview with me. These four farmers represented an interesting cross-section of the community: a traditional hill-farmer (Map 4, see also Case Study p15.1), a man who had started as a tenant farmer and acquired his farm during his life-time (Map 5), a relatively wealthy and successful younger man who began in farming but had maintained it now more as a ‘hobby’ as he had diversified successfully into running a hotel (Map 2), and one who was semi-retired and had become interested in wood-carving (Map 3). This questionnaire was hand-written. The results of the Extended Questionnaire have been tabulated in Table 11.

Farming Related Industries

Conducted at: shops and offices of business people being interviewed, Dolgellau Farmer’s Market

The Farming-Related Industry Questionnaire was used for the small number of relevant businesses such as vets and farmers’ Co-operatives. A copy of the Questionnaire with justifications is presented in this Section (see Table 5). Results of the survey were tabulated in Table 14. In addition, answers were entered into a spreadsheet (Table 15) for statistical analysis where appropriate.

Local Residents Questionnaire

Conducted at: Dolgellau and Machynlleth market.

The primary objective of carrying out this Questionnaire was to determine how residents perceive (or fail to perceive) the problems facing farmers. Are farmers isolated from rural communities, and how effectively are they putting their point across? A copy of the Questionnaire showing justifications is in this Section (Table 4). The Residents survey results are presented in Table 12, and answers were entered into a spreadsheet (Table 13) for analysis.

VIP’s Questionnaire

Conducted at: Dolgellau Farmer’s Market

The VIP questionnaire was written in case I was able to interview anybody in a position of public authority relevant to the Study. Only one questionnaire was used, for a representative of the Farmers Union of Wales (FUW) at Dolgellau Farmer’s Market. The question list was very reduced from the Farmer’s Questionnaire, and is shown in this Section (Table 6). Its results are discussed in the next Section.



Small numbers of people available for questioning (the Study Area is sparsely populated, with considerable time spent travelling between sites), and the restricted time available meant it was only practical to run a pilot test on the Local Resident’s Questionnaire.

Sampling strategy: I intended to use every third person but this was not possible for the reason of the sparse population in Snowdonia. In the two villages where I interviewed local residents (Machynlleth and Dolgellau), many of the people in the street were tourists or residents who were unwilling to be interviewed. For this reason, any Welsh rural villager who was willing to be interviewed was accepted, but the scarcity of such people added a natural randomisation to the sampling.

For similar reasons all farmers who were willing to cooperate at the farmers’ market in Dolgellau were interviewed.

Prior knowledge of the area, as well as familiarity and empathy with people there, helped greatly in achieving interviews with notable farmers who provided a good cross-section of farming interests, wealth, experience or success. I am indebted to them all for giving their time.

Statistical Analysis

Answers to Questionnaires (except the Extended Farmer’s and VIP Questionnaires) were entered into Excel spreadsheets, to facilitate graphing and statistical analysis.

Distributions of answers to Questionnaires were assessed using the Chi-square test, usually assuming an even distribution to answers (ie, lack of bias). For example, where four possible answers were provided, the theoretical null outcome is 4:4:4:4, whereas the observed outcome may be 10:1:3:2, for 16 responses. Chi-square was calculated using the Function facility in Excel which gives the Probability result.

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Data Analysis and Explanation

Analysis and Explanation: Farmer’s Questionnaire and Extended Questionnaire

Figure 2 shows that of 21 farmers interviewed, sheep and cattle were the main farm products, the majority being sheep farmers. This reflects the agricultural situation for Wales, particularly the north-east Region [Ref. 5, cf. Map 6]. Farm size varied from 100 to 4,500 acres, of average 812 acres and median 400 acres (Table 10 and Figure 3: Farm Size) This is much larger than the Welsh average farm size (100 acres) [Ref. 5]. But the large coefficient of variation (121%) reflects the wide range (Table 10). This high median/mean illustrates that farm sizes in Snowdonia are large (for Wales) because of relatively unproductive land (poor soil/ steep relief). Farms have to be large to be economically viable. Half of the farmers had diversified [Fig 16], the majority (8/12) turning to tourism [Fig 17]. Diversification based on tourism is unreliable: the recent wet British summers has affected tourism. . They were evenly divided on their economic reliance on diversification [Fig 18]. The farmers were evenly split on Tir Cymen membership [Fig 5].

Figure 9 shows percent income from subsidies– a significant majority of farms were heavily dependant on these – p=0.029 [Fig 10]. Surprisingly, the farmers felt that subsidy levels were reasonable! [Fig 14] Income and profit were difficult to assess, due to reticence, but of those who answered, the majority had an income and profit of less than £10,000, ie, below poverty level [Fig 4 and 6]. A significant majority had seen profit decrease in recent years (p<0.001) [Fig 7], and were almost unanimous in saying the farming economy had declined [Fig 11]. These changes had affected them personally [Fig 12]. The majority also felt that their industry affects the local economy a lot [Fig 15]. Few farmers employed workers: none had increased staff while four had decreased them [Fig 8]. A slight minority (28%) claimed they would be the last to farm their land [Fig 20].

Who do farmers think is responsible for the decline? Most commonly blamed were the strong currency and government policy. Interestingly, six farmers also blamed supermarkets or butchers (ie, for ‘profiteering’) [Fig 13]. The most common suggestions in answer to the question, "What do you think the government should do to help farmers" [Table 9] were devaluing the pound, ensuring a fairer deal from Europe, and join EMU.

The Extended Questionnaire: [See Table 11] The crisis is caused by several factors. There are a combination of increasing financial burdens [See also App B, P and O], such as inherited debt [Q1A] and increased abattoir charges [Q1E]. Balanced against this is lowered income. Low sheep/lamb prices were felt to be due to various factors, including the strong pound and Government policy [Q1E]. Subsidies have resulted in too many sheep, which, combined with loss of European buyers, has forced prices down dramatically [Append P].

Severe social repercussions have resulted from the financial crisis– eg, farmers wives working outside, the end of farming families, suicide and divorce [Q1A, Also App C, Ref 13]. Many farmers now have insufficient capital to allow them to retire (63.4% nationwide), so farmers are becoming older (average age 57) [Appendix AA, also Questionnaire F2]. The brave ones are defiant.

Snowdonia farmers have important environmental responsibilities . These include control of pest species: plants, eg, rhododendron, bracken [App I] [Q2A], and animals, eg, minks, Canada geese [Ref 25], foxes [Q2B]. Farmers have positive roles in forestry management [Q2C], top-dressing land [Q2F], maintaining walls/fences/hedges [Q2G], and walking paths in tourist areas. These take time and money. Farmers also ‘police’ the countryside, watching for vandalism, theft, stray dogs. The ‘Right to Roam’ Bill is causing concern [Q3C].

Welsh farmers have important social roles reflecting their traditional and tight-knit communities. These include being on councils (including SNP Board), school boards, and societies [Q3A]. Traditionally, they funded chapels and meeting houses – this latter role seems to be disappearing [Q3D].

Secondary data showed clearly that farmers’ incomes have decreased almost to zero [Figure 1 in App F]. This is due in part to falling prices for their products (meat, fleeces) [Q1E].

Analysis and Explanation: Local Residents Questionnaire

Twenty-one residents were interviewed. Eleven of twenty-one had noticed a decline in the local farming industry [Fig 21]. Two had not perceived any trends, while 8 had not noticed anything. Seventeen (of the 19 who noticed) felt that farming affects the local economy some or a lot [Fig 22]. , a highly significant majority (17/21) felt that the government does not provide useful support to the local rural community (p=0.0017) [Fig 23]. Thirteen felt that farming subsidies benefited the local economy, 5 felt that they did not: this split of opinion is not significant (at 5% level) [Fig 26]. A significant proportion of residents (14/21) thought that rural communities should be subsidised similar to farming (p=0.018) [Fig 27], and 16 felt that Government should make more jobs in the rural area arising out of the farming industry; only two did not [Fig 28]. Of the people I interviewed, nine were employed, two unemployed and ten retired (ie, almost half were retired) [Fig. 24].

Analysis and Explanation: Farming Related Industries Questionnaire

Seven businesses were questioned, and all interviewees had noticed a decline in the local farming industry [Fig 31]. Six also reported a major decline in their business [Fig 32]. None of them felt that the government gives useful support to the local rural community [Fig 33]. Apart from two who had no opinion, five felt that farming subsidies benefited the local rural community [Fig 34]. Three businesses were selling less than they were a year ago; two were the same. Only one was selling more [Fig 37]. As a result, five reported less profit than last year [Fig 38]. Their response to the question of who is to blame was of similar distribution to the farmers, although they mentioned imports as one factor, which the farmers did not [Fig 39]. Abattoirs owners are a special case: they had much to say about increasing costs of EU/government bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is seen as a financial burden – especially new EU and UK regulations on abattoirs. The BSE crisis has added to EU bureaucratic requirements [Questionnaires: FR5, F5/FR2. See also Ref 19].

Analysis and Explanation: VIP Questionnaire

An FUW representative interviewed at the Farmer’s Market in Dolgellau (Question Sheet V1) said that the local farming industry had declined recently, and that the government should provide more subsidies to maintain a farming industry in the Welsh uplands. He stated that farmers really in ‘crisis’ at the moment: the blame was with the government, the strong pound, and other circumstances outside the control of farmers. He contradicted farmers’ opinion in claiming that farming subsidies were too low, mainly due to the strength of the pound as compared with the euro. He said that the farming industry affects the local economy to some degree, stating, "When the small farmers go it affects the local economy, for example, small shops close."

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Conclusions and Evaluation

Route to enquiry: what the study showed

How has the current crisis in farming affected the farmers and the local community in an LFA?

I embarked upon this study to investigate why farmers seem to have fallen on hard times. I wanted to show what could be lost if farmers were to be forced to leave their farms, particularly in areas such as the National Park. I wanted to analyse the difficulties that they are facing, which make an end for the farming industry in the uplands – not just Snowdonia – a very real prospect. I also wished to understand how the local communities were being affected by the farming crisis.

1) What is the cause of the present crisis in farming in Snowdonia National Park?

A significant majority of SNP farmers have seen profits decrease in recent years, resulting in incomes below the poverty level [Figs 7,12,16, App F]. These changes have affected them personally. Many farmers have to supplement their incomes by diversification – usually tourist-based, but this has suffered also because of poor summers [Figs 16,17]. Wives often work to support the farm; increased financial pressures lead to divorce and suicide [App C, Ref 13]. But there is no single cause for the loss of income/profit:

2) What impacts have these changes had in Snowdonia National Park, socially, economically and environmentally?

Farmers play an important role as environmental managers. What would be the consequences of them ceasing to perform this role?

Farmers also have social roles. One was watching the countryside. In the past, Welsh farmers funded community buildings and attended chapel. Now farmers are more isolated and have less input into the community – this is producing a wider social crisis in rural areas [Table 11 Q3]. Villages and farm-related businesses in the SNP are at risk of decline [below].

3) What impacts have the changes had on rural communities?

Figure 40.

4) What direct/indirect impacts have been felt in Snowdonia National Park on farming-related activities?

5) Who has gained? Who has lost out?

Table 16 analyses this.

6) What is the outlook for the future in Snowdonia National Park?

Wider Significance

Figure 19:



See Table 17 (following)

Suggestions and Possible Solutions

What can Government do to help farmers

"I think that there is pretty good circumstantial evidence that the supermarkets are getting more than their fair share. But the problem is that there is simply no evidence in the public arena? are they, for instance, making money at the point of sale but losing it somewhere in the distribution chain? This is the sort of evidence I would like to see them have to disclose ? I have been highly critical of the Office of Fair Trading and Monopolies and Mergers System. Time and time again it has allowed concentration to continue. It would not have happened in the USA, with its tougher interventionist policy"

(Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy, Thames University). [Ref. 35]

What farmers can do to help themselves
"People listen to minority groups like anti-hunting lobby groups as they chose a single specific aim and the lobby politicians to an enormous degree. Farmers should organise themselves and do this, rather than standing around like cuckoos in a nest, asking for more money. It is less work, and more intelligent….During the BSE crisis, farmers did nothing to inform or engage in objective debate with the public about what was going. They should give some basis for reassurance or making decisions." (Question Sheet F4)

Overall Conclusions

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(C) Gavin Duley 2001


NB: These were included as inserts at the end of the print version, but not on this virtual version.


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