Farm incomes have fallen by two thirds in real terms over the past five years. Hit by BSE, the strong pound and cheap imports, average income per farm is down to an annual £7,500, with hill farms bringing in only £4,000.

Now the government proposes a £500 levy on farmers to pay for foot and mouth disease, for

which most farmers have no insurance. Even those farmers who are insured will probably have no cover for indirect financial loss – typically being unable to sell their animals or produce because of movement restrictions.

Insurance Times has no brief for the farming lobby, or for any special interest group. But with a Treasury stocked with money, and with 51,000 farmers having left the industry in the two years to June 2000, surely it's time for Gordon Brown to open up the Treasury to the tune of £80m rather than levy this sum on an industry which is unable to pay.

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