OBJECTIVE--To test the hypothesis that farmers are at high risk of hip osteoarthritis and to investigate possible causes for such a hazard. DESIGN--Cross sectional survey. SETTING--Five rural general practices. SUBJECTS--167 male farmers aged 60-76 and 83 controls from mainly sedentary jobs. All those without previous hip replacement underwent radiography of the hip. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Hip replacement for osteoarthritis or radiological evidence of hip osteoarthritis. RESULTS--Prevalence of hip osteoarthritis was higher in farmers than controls and especially in those who had farmed for over 10 years (odds ratio 9.3, 95% confidence interval 1.9 to 44.5). The excess could not be attributed to any one type of farming, and heavy lifting seems the likely explanation. CONCLUSIONS--Manual handling in agriculture should be limited where possible. Consideration should be given to making hip osteoarthritis a prescribed industrial disease in farmers. There may be wider implications for the prevention of hip osteoarthritis in the general population.