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British youth seek farmland, as beef prices rise

Rising commodity prices are boosting the British farming industry, attracting young farmers to enter the profession.

By Mian RidgeCorrespondent / July 28, 2012



Melton Mowbray, UK

British farmers tend not to be known for their cheeriness. But at the Melton Mowbray cattle market in England’s undulating green Midlands area, where cows, sheep, and chickens are traded, even the most taciturn farmers admit that their business is a good one to be in these days.

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“Things are better, that’s for sure,” said one white-haired farmer dressed in a battered wax jacket, as he watched a herd of glossy brown cattle stomping around an auction hall. 

Cows typically fetch twice the price they did in 2006, when Stuart Hampson, then president of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, spoke of a “deep-seated crisis” in British farming. His words followed years of trouble: from a foot-and-mouth crisis to supermarkets’ stranglehold over producers.

A surge in commodity prices, especially wheat, hitting $314 a ton last year compared to $125 three years earlier, is underlying their change of fortune and attracting young people to the profession. But booming land prices are making it difficult for them to enter the fray.  

“There’s much more optimism in farming generally,” says Richard King, a farming consultant at the Anderson Centre in Melton Mowbray, Britain. “There’s a feeling that rising commodity prices are a symptom of improved prospects for farmers, with a rising population and tighter supply.”

The demand is driven by emerging markets like China, where people are increasingly putting grain-fed meat on their plates instead of rice. Items traditionally popular in the West, including bread, are expected to become popular in other parts of the world as well. 

The United Nations food agency estimates that the world will need to up its cereals production by 1.1 billion tons and produce 220 million extra tons of livestock products every year to feed what will be a global population of 9 billion people by 2050, and satisfy the demand for biofuels.

Land boom

The most dramatic indication of farming’s new boom is the rise in the price of British farmland, which has, on average, trebled to around $9,500 an acre over the past decade.

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