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Westcountry farmers driven close to suicide

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 19, 2012

  • Westcountry farmers driven close to suicide

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Farm charities are seeing a record number of requests for help from Westcountry farmers, after the worst summer since 1912 depleted feed stocks and caused prices to spiral.

In some areas the workload has doubled, with volunteers even faced with potential suicides as farmers simply cannot take any more.

"In extreme circumstances we are doing everything we can to stop people from killing themselves," said Peter Clarke, the Farm Crisis Network co-ordinator for Cornwall. "The workload has increased enormously."

And it is not just small family farms that have been hard hit. Medium-sized and large farms are also suffering, and seeking help from the charities, he said.

Four charities helping farmers cope with the legacy of this year's extreme weather are to benefit from a £150,000 donation from Prince Charles's countryside body – and another £150,000 from the Duke of Westminster, one of the nation's largest landowners.

The Royal cash comes from the Prince's Countryside Fund.

Prince Charles called a meeting on Monday evening with the leaders of the four rural charities to discuss the issue and it was agreed the fund would donate its entire emergency kitty of £150,000.

The money will help farmers struggling financially following the winter drought and wet summer which has led to a shortage of grazing land, low stocks of fodder and a poor harvest, compounded by the rising cost of feed and fuel.

During the meeting at Clarence House, Prince Charles said: "I have been growing increasingly concerned about the many difficulties which farmers from all sectors are facing – and are likely to face – this winter and so I thought it was important for us to come together, hear what we each have to report and then I want to see what I can do to help through my Prince's Countryside Fund.

"When I set up my Countryside Fund in 2010 I and the trustees decided from the start that we would always keep a lump sum available to be used for any farming emergency. Some of you have already received help from this fund in the past. But I think we are all agreed that many British farmers are facing an emergency situation and so I am very pleased that the trustees agreed we would divide £150,000 between you."

The four charities involved are the Farm Crisis Network, the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, the Addington Fund, which provides housing for farming families entering or leaving the industry (including two developments in Cornwall) and the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution.

"These donations from Prince Charles and the Duke are marvellous news," added Mr Clarke. "There are so many problems facing the industry at present and the increase in the number of cases and their complexity is very considerable."

Mr Clarke heads a team of five other volunteers, all farmers or retired farmers, who understand the problems and can react at once when there is a crisis. There are similar teams in Devon and Somerset, which cope with a considerable percentage of the charity's national workload.

"If something happens you can't wait until tomorrow. You have to react at once," he added.

Usually Mr Clarke deals with four new cases a month, but now it can be up to eight, and there are always around 30 "repeats" to be handled. Very often the volunteers find themselves dealing directly with agents and bureaucrats to help their clients.

Mr Clarke added: "The farmers seeking our support come in all sizes. I have had a farmer milking several hundred cows who finds that because of the quality of this year's silage they are just not producing the volume of milk expected – and he is in despair."

Prices have rocketed because of the shortages, with wheat straw selling at £90 a tonne delivered and barley straw £120. And much of the grass grazed had little nourishment in it because of the wet weather. The poor harvest also means that animal-feed prices have risen very considerably.

Then there are concerns about diseases, like bovine TB and Schmallenberg Virus, causing havoc among herds and flocks in the region.

Mr Clarke added: "The Single Farm Payment money that farmers are receiving is acting as a financial cushion – but it won't last for long – so the more help that comes our way the better."

Now was when many farmers needed extra cash, particularly if they were buying fertiliser, which would be more expensive in the spring.

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  • Charlespk  |  December 22 2012, 9:12PM

    I think you are a very sad man howardd1. . You should examine how that comes across. . It says far more about you . Farming was more viable for the small farmer milking a dozen cows back then it is true, but it's never been so tough as it is now at any level. . It's mostly built on massive debt and the debt laden treadmill. I'm from a single parent family on a council estate. . I left home with 'nowt'. . Success comes to those who work for it. . You can either spend all your money on foreign holidays etc or decide to buy yourself a bit of England and work all Gods hours until you get it. . I bought my first farm when I was still only 26. When land was cheaper it was because noone wanted the work. . I've been subsidizing my farming with other commercial interests for over 40 years. . Those who've hung in there working 24/7 deserve all the success they've ever achieved. . They keep us fed. . It's a way of life, not an easy life. . Just be grateful.

  • howardd1  |  December 22 2012, 8:30PM

    back in the fifties , i was brought up in a farming community in warwickshire , all the farm owners kids were better dressed than us ,and would bragg how they would eat chicken most week ends when it was a luxury to other kids , they would be picked up from school in there dads land rover or what we called then a shooting brake or estate car they were all big motors of coursethey paid no tax on there petrol , how times change and i have still never seen a farmer on a bike,

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  • Charlespk  |  December 22 2012, 7:49PM

    This article demonstrates clearly the disastrous legacies bequeathed to this country by a Labour party that has never ever really been fit to govern. We now have repugnant 'Class-War' bigotry and a dependency culture, together with the consequences of an immigration policy that was designed simply to buy votes and keep them in power for eternity (except our tax monies ran out). Added to that, neither end of the social spectrum any longer has any faith in either our police force or the BBC. . Welcome to Christmas time in 21st Century, in good old Merry England. http://tinyurl.com/c8xeugw

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  • lhasa27  |  December 22 2012, 7:01PM

    well said robocop so true. I'm 50 and gave up meat and milk 20 years ago - never felt better.

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  • robocop1982  |  December 22 2012, 11:08AM

    we can live without meat and milk. its about time we stopped sending animals to slaughter houses. WHy don't we have laws against this?

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  • eponymice  |  December 21 2012, 11:33AM

    @barumbcfc I agree that it does appear that the farming community indulges "in never ending whinging" but my view is that the whinging emanates from a few clearly identifiable sources and not from the majority of individual farmers. The NFU in this part of the world is probably the primary source. They do seem to issue an unending stream of doom laden comment in the hope that this will bring pressure to bear on politicians and encourage their farming members to believe that the organisation is sticking up for them. Unfortunately much of the comment consequently has an adverse impact on how the non farming public view agriculture. The WMN also plays its part in this dichotomy through some of its farming focused articles and of course there will always be the odd loquacious farmer who does not represent anyone but himself and is unable to see what damage his self promoting comments do to the relationship between town and country. There are still many very successful farming businesses despite the impression of poverty dished out by some interested organisations. This article is all about those would probably not have been a success in another walk of life or have fallen on hard times due to a variety of reasons. I am happy that there are farming help groups, funded from within the farming community, who are there to help those of the community who are in need of support. A significant reason for the current high prices of agricultural holdings is the advent of the 'hobby farmer' who has lots of money to invest and believes that a place in the country would be a good idea.

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  • Corsham999  |  December 20 2012, 9:16PM

    Did you know that we (the uk taxpayer) gives more in benefits to refugees and asylum seekers (some that are illegal and some that are in prison) that are in this Country than we give in aid to our farmers each year. For that statement I made I would have expected in say 2007 to have got loads of the PC mob "knocking" me and loads of minus votes (even though its just a fact) now in the hard times were we don't have so much time for that liberal, lets save the world and some and pay for our past @@@@@llockslets see how it goes.Oh ye help the Farmers now is my message, some the overseas aid and look after our own first is my point also.

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  • barumbcfc  |  December 20 2012, 7:08PM

    Re smartyc I would like to add myself as a complainant to the never ending whinging of the farming community.it seems to me if they can't make it pay,then handouts from the taxpayer are a right. I think it's time the farmers are dragged into the twentieth century (after that we can then hope to get em into the 21st one)if farming is such a bad business can anyone out there explain to me why farmland and farm houses are priced at record levels. I was told a long time ago the eighth wonder of the world was a contented farmer !you only have look at Richard (subsidies please) haddock to verify this.im a pensioner now and can't recall a time in my life when farmers haven't been moaning about something. Oh and by the way "smartyc" I'm still working and paying my taxes.in fact I got a retail business and as you might be aware the high street is going through a rough patch but you ain't heard us retailers trying to blackmail the taxpayer into free handouts !!!! In short if you can't make it pay get out.

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  • SmartyC  |  December 20 2012, 11:24AM

    Interesting to see the politics of envy at work in the comments column. I wonder what the complainants do for a living, if anything? Or whether they sit on their backsides claiming benefits and watching daytime TV whilst whining about anyone that works hard having "posh cars", as seems to be the way for so many these days?

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  • farmersupport  |  December 20 2012, 8:56AM

    Dee2 - the reason that farmers have converted their buildings into holiday lets is because they are supplementing their income from farming. The Government has for years encouraged them to diversify out of farming, and to make the most of the assets they have. If they were sitting on their backsides doing nothing then you would lambast them for not making the most of what they've got. They just can't win. Twain1 you clearly haven't got a clue what you're talking about. Go and spend a week working on a dairy or beef farm and you'll soon realise how much farmers care about their animals. Of course there is the odd one who - sometimes through poverty - lets the industry down, and they are rightfully hung out to dry and condemned by the rest of the farming community. But to tarnish an entire industry with that kind of tripe is ridiculous and blatantly belies your lack of knowledge.

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