MORE farmers are trying to sell up and quit an industry continuing to struggle with declining profits.

The gloomy picture of a diminishing farming industry was revealed this week in a survey published by the Institute of Chartered Accountants' farming and rural business group.

More than six out of ten of chartered accountants questioned said farmers were increasingly trying to leave the industry and nearly 90pc reported fewer children taking over the family farm.

Economic prospects for farmers over the next 12 months are seen as bleak, with 41pc of those surveyed forecasting a worsening situation and a further 37pc predicting no change.

The latest annual profits survey covered 244 farms, comprising 41,242 hectares, of which 30 farms - totalling 3,613 hectares - were in the North-East and Cumbria.

Robert Wharton, the group's Northern spokesman, has both professional and personal experience of the problems facing local farmers. His parents run a farm north of Carlisle.

"After the devastating impact of foot-and-mouth, particularly in Cumbria, some of the region's farmers have understandably said enough is enough and are getting out," he said.

"Those who escaped the disease themselves, but were subject to the regulations and movement restrictions, are struggling. Of the farmers affected by foot-and-mouth, some still haven't re-stocked and are seriously considering their future."

Mr Wharton, a farming specialist with Dodd & Co of Carlisle, said there had been a marked increase in the number of local farms being offered for sale or tenancy. "I know of three farms in my area which have been sold recently and another which the owner has decided to offer on a five-year tenancy," he said.

The survey showed that farm profits per hectare continued to fall, from £130 to £125 (£52.61 to £50.58 per acre), down 4pc year-on-year, and 19pc of farms continued to report losses averaging almost £33,000 a year.

Eight out of ten accountants surveyed reported more diversification, although only 15pc of farmers surveyed showed any diversification and only one-fifth of those said non-farming activity was making a meaningful contribution to farm profits.

The chairman of the ICA group, Aubrey Davies, said politicians in Westminster and Brussels must address the very real crisis facing the rural economy