Down on the farm

UK - Animals are a stereotypical feature of rural England, but a mixture of changing subsidies, technology, biology and market forces are making livestock in the countryside increasingly rare (see chart).

The reasons vary by species. For cows, the problem is that milk yields are growing steadily, while production quotas (part of the agricultural planned economy) have hardly risen since their introduction in 1984. So filling the quotas requires ever fewer cows.

Demand for beef has fallen, too, partly because of health concerns over obesity and disease, says Sean Rickard, a born-again free-marketeer who was once chief economist at the National Farmers' Union.

Furthermore, government efforts to prop up the price of beef have allowed cheaper meats, especially poultry and pork, to undercut it.

Not that this is good news for British pig farmers, who get very little government help. Porcine numbers are more volatile than bovine ones, but they, too, are shrinking. Pig farming had a good patch in the late 1990s, thanks to a weak pound and a disease outbreak in German and Dutch herds. Now the pound is stronger, foreign herds have recovered and, since 1999, new rules require more spacious living quarters for British pigs. European porkers will get them only in 2010. That means that the pig population is likely to remain low for the foreseeable future.

Source: Hoovers News
calendar icon 1 April 2005
clock icon 1 minute read
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